Research Project – Exploring literacy: How six schools lifted achievement – Eliza de Waal and Jan Eyre

The importance of literacy cannot be overstated. Literacy opens doors to education, employment, wellbeing, and meaningful participation in society. We know from research that adults with low levels of literacy are more likely to have low incomes, poor health, and less involvement in social and political activities (Benseman & Sutton, 2011).
For most people, formal literacy learning begins in the primary school. As described in the Ministry of Education handbook Effective Literacy Practice, the focus is on “Teaching students to read and write using the written forms of the English language” (Ministry of Education, 2003, p. 19). While acknowledging that literacy practices are changing, and that texts are becoming
increasingly multimodal (see, for example, New London Group, 1996), reading and writing remain foundational skills that unlock access to other learning areas.
Early success in reading and writing is important. Falling behind at an early age increases the likelihood of having low levels of literacy at a later stage. The “Matthew Effect” (Stanovich, 2009) describes the phenomenon, whereby children who make good initial progress in reading tend to continue to do so, whereas children who do not get off to a good start are unlikely to catch up. The result is a widening gap between students with lower and higher levels of skill over the primary
school years.
Given the importance of early success in reading and writing, knowing how schools can support children to make progress is of great interest. This project set out to explore this question by
identifying schools that appear to be successful in achieving progress in literacy and asking staff and leaders what they thought had contributed to this success. We wanted to uncover the factors that helped these schools make sustained lifts in literacy achievement, then offer this information in a way that others could use and adapt for their own contexts. This report summarises and discusses the factors identified in our study. The case studies of the schools we visited are included in Section 4 and offer more detailed descriptions of each context.

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