Posted in Assessment, curriculum, education, Government stragegy, leadership, National Curriculum, policy, politics

What we learned about Pupil Premium at the Inside Government conference

At the end of January, we attended the Inside Government conference, ‘Pupil Premium: Ensuring the Best Educational Outcomes in Secondary Schools’, to see what we could learn about Pupil Premium strategy from the experts.

We heard keynote speeches from Sonia Blandford, Founder and Chief Executive of Achievement for All, and Thomas Martell from the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), as well as a talk on ‘Establishing a Comprehensive Pupil Premium Strategy’ from the Deputy Director of the National Education Trust, Marc Rowland.

On top of that, we also heard from a collection of Pupil Premium Award winning schools presenting case studies of what has worked in their settings, but more importantly, how and why it worked for their particular setting. Continue reading “What we learned about Pupil Premium at the Inside Government conference”

Posted in SEND, Uncategorized

Are we failing pupils with SEND?

We are currently in an era where many schools endorse and embrace the goal of full inclusion for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Undoubtedly, inclusion is the key to obtaining education and social equity.

Unfortunately, inclusion is often falsely translated to mean the “place” where teaching and learning occurs, stemming from the ideological belief all pupils should be educated in the general classroom – that instruction provided outside of this setting is akin to segregation. While general education can, and should, be strengthened to better meet the needs of all pupils, for many these practices alone are just not enough. Continue reading “Are we failing pupils with SEND?”

Posted in Assessment, research, SEND, Uncategorized

Dyslexia: overlooked and left behind?

Every year, SATs results and other national testing shows that too many children and young people are not meeting expected levels in literacy, with 1 in 5 children leaving primary school below the national expected levels in reading, writing and mathematics.[1]

If you cannot learn to read, you cannot read to learn, and too many children are unable to access the curriculum due to poor reading skills. It is these children who then become disengaged and leave school with few, or no qualifications, resulting in significantly reduced opportunities. Continue reading “Dyslexia: overlooked and left behind?”

Posted in Uncategorized

If you can read this, thank a teacher

In recognition of World Teachers’ Day, today’s blog was intended to celebrate teachers and how important they are to each and every one of us.

A great reinforcement of the often unrecognised influence teachers have is the fact you’re reading this – be it a classroom teacher, mum, dad, sibling or caregiver, someone taught you how to do that. Imagine how much smaller the world would be without such an incredible skill and it’s clear the impact that teachers have on our lives.

Recently in the UK, however, celebrating teachers wasn’t so high on the education agenda, as two major studies highlighted a number of distressing issues:

The first, by the National Union of Teachers, highlighted that over half of teachers are considering quitting the profession within the next two years.

The second, by YouGov, was slightly more positive, showing that teaching is considered one of the top professions in terms of contributing to the wellbeing of society, but highlighting too that respect for teachers as professionals is far less widespread.

It’s a strange catch-22 to recognise how important teachers are to society and yet to withhold respect for teachers as individuals. There seem to be a number of reasons behind this, and status is certainly one of them.

Teaching generally hits the news in a negative frame, with the same issues raised time and time again such as: workload, bureaucracy, work-life balance, low-pay, responsibilities which stretch far beyond teaching and increasingly rigid government policies.

In a statement to TheSchoolBus, one former teacher outlined that: “Teaching takes over your life. You are unable to leave the job at work and you can’t switch off, even when on holiday – the majority of which I spent marking or preparing lessons.” These issues combined are leading to what is being dubbed a “recruitment crisis”, with subjects like maths and physics, as well as schools in rural areas, the worst hit.

There seem to be mixed messages coming from the UK government around this issue. On the one hand, tens of thousands of pounds are being offered to high-quality graduates to train to become teachers in high priority areas. On the other hand, Nicky Morgan has said that the recovering economy is partly to blame, citing greater opportunities in the jobs market as something which detracts graduates from teaching.

It’s a comment that’s likely to incense many teachers, and it’s out of touch for Ms Morgan to suggest that teaching is a “scrape the barrel” profession which people revert to in difficult economic times. The reality; however, is that far from being some kind of fall back job, teaching is an incredibly demanding profession. As one teacher commented to TheSchoolBus: “I took my responsibility of being ‘in loco parentis’ to heart. Despite not being a parent myself, I found that as a childless young woman, I was under pressure to dedicate increasingly overwhelming amounts of time outside of working hours to preparation, marking, responding to emails, and attending evening events.”

As commentators have rightly pointed out, teaching needs to be valued in order to attract top graduates, and this value should be reflected monetarily as well as through the rhetoric around it. Discussing programmes to attract more teachers while at the same time suggesting it’s not an attractive profession during good economic times is confusing at best, and insulting to teachers at worst.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned for the government in the number of teachers who are leaving the country but continuing with their chosen profession. In 2014, more teachers left Britain to teach English overseas than qualified to become a teacher via the PGCE route. Far from suggesting that the teaching profession is in and of itself an unattractive prospect during times of economic growth, it instead reveals that British teachers are committed to their profession, but seek to be valued for their work and are prepared to head overseas where this is the case.

The figures lay the blame for the teaching shortage directly at the feet of current government policies. They show that the desire to educate remains undiminished, but the opportunity to make this a rewarding profession is forcing many to go elsewhere.

It is arguably the government’s ever-growing demands on teachers, evidenced by new requirements such as the Prevent duty, along with the lack of value given to the profession, which has also fuelled what some are calling “professional martyrdom”.

As one teacher commented: “Much of the profession depends solely on the goodwill and sacrifice of teachers to constantly go “above and beyond”, to forgo evenings and weekends with family and friends to mark essays in the name of duty and to be responsible for their pupils, regardless of personal cost.”

Another added that: “Professional martyrdom and teaching seem to be inextricably linked due to the perception that teaching is not just a profession. It is a vocation. A calling.”

It was Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s landmark play, Death of a Salesman, who famously exclaimed: “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit!” It could be argued that teachers were viewed as expendable, due to the fact that, until recent years, there have always been fresh-faced recruits ready to fill the positions of those too exhausted to continue.

Teaching is a vocation as well as a profession, and teachers provide a wonderful service to society, but their contribution shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Posted in literacy, reading, teaching

How do I switch it on? The challenge of getting boys to read books

It has long been challenging to get children to put down their games controller and pick up a book. Since the earliest days of Atari and Sega Megadrive, it has been seemingly impossible to drag children away from some kind of colourful flashing box.

Boys in particular tend to enjoy reading less, read less often and think less positively about reading than girls. Similarly, older pupils tend to be more disengaged from reading in terms of enjoyment and attitudes when compared to younger pupils. However, when one combines gender and key stages in the analyses, it becomes evident that teenage boys, particularly those in Key Stage (KS) 4, have a particular aversion to reading.

Only 26.2% of boys in KS4 say that they enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot. This is nearly half of the number of KS3 boys who say that they enjoy reading (41.6%) and nearly a third of the number of KS2 boys who say that they enjoy reading (65.5%). This is also nearly half the number of girls in KS4 (42.5%) who enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot.

Teenage boys also read less frequently than their younger peers, with over a third of KS2 boys (35.4%) saying that they read every day, compared with only a fifth of KS4 boys (20.5%).
Half as many KS4 as KS2 boys say that they read fiction outside of class at least once a month. KS4 boys are also less likely than their KS2 counterparts to read poems (8.7% vs. 29.8%) and non-fiction (27% vs. 43.9%). However, older boys are nearly twice as likely to read newspapers compared with younger boys.

Teenage boys think less positively about reading compared with younger boys. Only 14.2% of boys in KS4 agree with the statement that “reading is cool”, compared with 58.1% of boys in KS2. At the same time, however, KS4 boys are more likely to agree with the statement that “I cannot find anything to read that interests me”, compared with KS2 boys (35% vs. 26%). KS4 boys are also more likely to agree with the statement that they “prefer watching television to reading”, with over two thirds of KS4 boys agreeing with the statement, compared with just over half of KS2 boys.

Today, boys have an exponential quantity of media to play with, engage with or sometimes, just watch. So how can teachers, as role models and educators, instil that spark of excitement that we used to get from dusty old hard back library books?

So how can we get them reading?

Boys prefer books that:

  • Are plot driven.
  • Have an edge to them.
  • Are controversial.
  • Are funny.
  • Have powerful ideas.
  • Appeal to their sense of mischief.
  • Are part of a series.
  • Reflect their ambitions.
  • Have great descriptive, atmospheric writing.
  • Have been made into a movie.

Take a look at our terrific guidance and templates to help you encourage boys to read.

But let us not forget about teenage girls

While teenage boys are a particular concern when it comes to reading engagement, teenage girls can also present a challenge. While 80.1% of KS2 girls say that they enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot, only half as many KS4 girls (42.5%) say that they enjoy reading. Similarly, while half of KS2 girls (50%) read daily, only half as many KS4 girls (25.4%) say that they read every day.

Three times as many KS2 girls as KS4 girls see reading as cool (69.5% vs. 21.8%). However, older girls are significantly less likely than younger girls to subscribe to reading as a gendered activity, with only 7.2% of KS4 girls agreeing with the statement that “reading is more for girls than boys” compared with 23.7% of KS2 girls.

Posted in creativity, literacy, reading

Give a hoot… read a book!

Between the ages of 4 and 11, I must have read a thousand books. I simply devoured the written word. Beginning with ‘Each, Peach, Pear, Plum’ and ‘Peter Rabbit’, moving on to anything written by Roald Dahl and Judy Blume’s classic ‘Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great’ and graduating to ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier (still one of my favourite novels). At school I loved quiet reading time, and class reading time. I was a precocious reader and my parents would put me to bed safe in the knowledge that I would either read myself to sleep, or at least stay awake, but in bed, reading.

But something happened when I turned 11, or more precisely, when I left primary school. I can pinpoint the moment I lost interest in books. It happened to coincide with our first book study – ‘Of Mice and Men’, actually, let’s be honest here, the dissecting, examining the where’s, why’s and how’s killed my love of reading. Learning about literature, it seemed, was not the same as reading.

It wasn’t until five years later, on a long car journey, when I picked up ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, that I got back into reading again.

It, therefore, came as no surprise to me (although it did sadden me) to read in the news that there has been a sharp decline in reading for pleasure among children and young people. It would appear that the most common “reading choices” for children and young people include text messages and emails (Douglas & Clark, 2011)[1] , although I’d be the first to admit that my number one reading choice, aged 14, was ‘Just 17’ magazine.

The evidence to support reading for pleasure is robust, with Clark & Rumbold’s 2006 [2] review of research identifying several areas of benefit, including:

  • Reading attainment and writing ability.
  • Text comprehension and grammar.
  • Breadth of vocabulary.
  • Positive reading attitudes.
  • Greater self-confidence as a reader.
  • Pleasure in reading in later life.
  • General knowledge.
  • A better understanding of other cultures.
  • Community participation.
  • A greater insight into human nature and decision-making.

The new national curriculum has already established the need for more frequent and improved reading and literacy among children of all ages, but are teachers ready to move away from the traditionally prescriptive reading list and in-depth study of literary classics? The latest news from TES is a resounding “YES”.

One in four teachers polled said they read stories to their class every day, with a further third saying they do so a few times per week. More than two fifths said they set aside quiet reading time every day and over half said they regularly set reading as homework.

Pearson and Book Trust, with support from the Department for Education, have this week launched a free, national reading competition called “Read for my School”. The competition challenges children at both primary and secondary school (from years 3 to 8) to read as many books as possible, in a variety of genres and formats. The programme offers 100 online books – free of charge – to those who sign up.

There is also a list of 100 recommended reads in various genres for children of all ages. The list includes film and television based books, such as ‘Paddington Bear’, and ‘Percy and the Lightning Thief’, for those reluctant readers who need a ‘way in’ to reading.

As for me, I recently revisited my favourite childhood novel – ‘What Katy Did’ by Susan Coolidge. I read this story about a girl who falls from a swing and is left unable to walk when I was seven-years-old and had broken my leg after being knocked down by a car. It was given to me as a gift by my mother and has always been special to me. Even at 30, the classic stands the test of time with its mystery and intrigue and, more importantly, its female protagonist; but this was a rare pleasure for me. I am time poor and so finding a quiet hour to read a book is difficult. The phrase “get them while they’re young” doesn’t just refer to the imagination of a child; it should really be “get them while they have time”.

We have a great Secondary Literacy Policy to help you get older kids into reading. What was your favourite childhood book? Let us know @_TheSchoolBus on Twitter.

[1] Douglas, J. & Clark, C., 2011. Young People’s Reading and Writing. [Online]

Available at:
[Accessed 22 January 2015].

[2] Clark, C. & Rumbold, K., 2006. Reading for Pleasure. [Online]

Available at:
[Accessed 22 January 2015].


Posted in education, literacy, reading

Literacy Matters

This blog piece is written by our expert literacy consultant Joyce E. Holden.

Reading is a skill for life!

I have been working in education all my adult life: as a teacher of English, as a literacy consultant, as a literacy secondary school governor and as a parent. Everyone should know why literacy skills are so very important.  Every teacher and family member should do their best to encourage the improvement of the speaking, listening, reading and writing skills of boys and girls. If we all did so, what a difference it would make!

Let’s look at reading…

  • If children are poor readers, they will be more likely to fall behind at school.
  • Homework, tests and exams will be much harder.
  • More than 98% of jobs in Britain today need reading skills.
  • If you have problems reading, everything in life is harder.

Think of the pleasure, meaning and understanding being a good reader gives you. What a vacuum there would be in your life, if you couldn’t read.

     Now take a look at these facts:

  •  “Over 5% of pupils enter secondary school with a reading level 2 or below and struggle with the core skills of word recognition and swift comprehension.”
  • “Approximately 20% of pupils start secondary school having achieved level 3 in reading in KS2 tests. They are vulnerable learners.” (National Secondary Strategy ‘Struggling Readers’.)
  • “66% of poor performance in SATs and GCSEs is due to poor reading skills – (National Literacy Trust).

You may find the following reading websites useful. There are lots of them out there:

Book websites   (school library)

“Reading Matters”    (for struggling/reluctant readers)