EEF report finds early, ongoing intervention key to reading progress

By Chris Jarosh
Photo of children taking a STAR Early Literacy test

Early and continuous intervention is key to accelerated reading progress

Only 1 in 10 students who arrive at secondary school without at least a Level 4 in reading will go on to achieve 5 A*-C grades at GCSE (including English and Maths). Catch-up strategies for reading are essential to students’ success across the curriculum, but research findings suggest that most interventions are not having the required impact.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published an Interim Evidence Brief for a study into the educational impact of low reading ages for those entering secondary education: Reading at the Transition. This study evaluates the impact of 24 literacy catch-up projects in over 400 schools, including Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader programme.

Initial findings by the EEF suggest that many intervention strategies have not been as effective as they need to narrow the gap between low-achievers at secondary transfer and their peers. Introducing the findings, the EEF’s Chief Executive Dr Kevan Collins described these students’ prospects as “bleak.”

Early intervention is more effective than later catch-up programmes, and consistent delivery of intervention has a greater overall impact than occasional intensive support like summer schools, which can also be significantly more expensive to implement. Schemes that support struggling readers across the curriculum yield the greatest and most consistent results.

The findings also stress the importance of using assessment data to inform reading practice. Identifying appropriate reading materials and areas of focus for struggling students will ensure that they make accelerated progress with literacy. “The effectiveness of any reading catch-up approach is related to the pupil’s current reading level,” the report concludes, “so it is important that staff have skill and training in diagnostic assessment, as well as in delivering any particular intervention.”

In his commentary on the piece, the report’s co-author Professor Steve Higgins commented that “the most important point the research makes, in my view, is that the challenge is far greater than most people realise.”

“The implications are twofold,” Higgins concluded. “Secondary schools must not underestimate the challenge of helping their struggling readers; one intervention will not be sufficient. These pupils are likely to need sustained support for several years and their teachers will need good diagnostic skills to ensure any support they give is meeting their needs. Meanwhile, primary schools must redouble their efforts to ensure these children do not fall so far behind in the first place. This indicates that earlier intervention and closer monitoring of reading progress are essential.”

For more information about the report, read Professor Steve Higgins’s article at The Conversation, and download the full report from the Education Endowment Foundation.

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