Latest success stories from Renaissance Learning

The north east multi-academy trust with a new-look assessment strategy

Wise Academies, North East

Across the Wise Academies Trust, eleven schools have been using Accelerated Reader and Star Reading on average since 2013, with the longest subscribing schools using Renaissance solutions since 2000! We spoke to Natalie Fountain, Executive Head and Regional Hub Leader (Sunderland) who has been in her role at Wise Academies for almost two years.

Natalie writes…

I was familiar with AR before joining Wise Academies. Still, I didn’t fully understand the power of it until working with Frances in the Special Projects team at Renaissance. Previously, I always used AR to identify each book’s level to ensure pupils were reading within their ZPD. Likewise, with Star Reading, which I’ve probably been using now for eight years, I never properly used any of the reports before. Accelerated Reader and Star Reading was wasted on us until now!

Most schools in our trust had previously used AR before it was a trust-wide initiative. Now Accelerated Reader is firmly part of all our schools’ English curriculum. Furthermore, we incorporate Star Reading data in all our assessment procedures each year, including the Star Reading baseline assessment at the start of every year for all schools. This baseline assessment allows headteachers to see trust-wide pupil progress data, which is useful for monitoring and comparing pupil attainment at trust level.

Using the data to initiate informed conversations 

Part of the reason we chose to use AR was to encourage more informed conversations at trust level. Additionally, it was great to improve our year-on-year SATs results. Because our staff and our pupils have been using AR for such a long time, we’re continually looking at pupils’ Star Reading scaled scores. It’s unbelievable how much of a link there is between AR and reading targets in the National Curriculum. I can’t believe we never used AR or Star Reading in that way before! This link-up is invaluable.

Our trust has significantly benefited from the fantastic onsite training from the Special Projects team at Renaissance. These sessions have shown us that we were simply not realising the full benefits of AR and Star Reading. From these sessions, we inform all the relevant members of staff as to how AR and Star Reading work and what they can gain from them. Previously, headteachers were out of the loop: they didn’t know what taking a Star Reading assessment looked like, for example. But now, we can show headteachers how it works ‘on the ground,’ and this has increased their engagement with it. Staff were taking new information from training sessions with Renaissance back to the school and giving it to teaching staff but were not including headteachers: but if the headteacher is involved, then a project will take off much better.

“The onsite support from Renaissance helped give headteachers a benchmark of reading standards across the trust.”

We have individual Directors of Teaching and Learning (DTLs) across the trust to be there for the schools that, currently, need the most support. When our trust formed, we needed someone to provide our DTLs with training, as well as needing someone to train staff across schools as our number of schools grew. The support that we’ve received from the Special Projects team at Renaissance has been efficient and practical. Because most staff start using AR with little to no experience of it, the onsite support from Renaissance helped give headteachers a benchmark of reading standards across the trust. Once they began to understand the data, this allowed them to see that they needed help with a specific issue. Likewise, if a headteacher is asking for support that other schools are more in need of, we can show them the data that illustrates this, allowing us to justify why DTLs have are deployed to specific schools.

AR and Star have allowed us to deploy DTLs more effectively to schools who need their support the most. With trust-wide data from Star Reading, we can now track the lowest-performing pupils across all schools, and use this evidence to justify deploying DTLs to appropriate schools to our executive leadership team. Being able to view each school’s corresponding Renaissance data from trust level has helped. We’re now ready to submit data in line with trust-wide assessment procedures. Previously, we would have conducted a risk register across all schools to identify the most significant risk in trust. We would use this information to share with regional hub teams to scrutinise senior leadership teams across schools. However, the trust quickly became too big, and the risk register soon became unmanageable. Now, we take all the data from Star Reading assessments and AR quizzes to regional hub boards, and we’re able to tap into that data at any point.

Sharing information across the whole trust

We incorporated Star Reading tests into our school assessment schedule so that we had more in-depth information about how our pupils were achieving in reading: we wanted to use Star Reading scaled scores as our primary measurement for pupils’ reading ability across the trust. All KS2 pupils use AR. We conduct a Star Reading assessment each half term, and we share all schools’ scaled scores and average progress with trustees and Regional Hub Boards. The progress information from Star Reading is key to our overall assessment: it lets us track reading, contextualise scaled scores with reading age and subsequently, share all this information with parents. With the information we’re able to give parents from AR and Star Reading reports, they have a greater understanding of their child’s reading ability and progress.

We have since changed the reading programme that we teach in all schools across the trust to include some of the aspects that AR and Star Reading both accurately assess. For example, we’ve introduced speed reads so that the pupils are reading more words per minute and therefore, building up their reading stamina. We identified this as an issue across our schools from both AR and SATs data.

Understanding all pupils’ true ability 

We’re also keep to encourage a reading for pleasure culture across our trust. The books that children wanted to read before we implemented Accelerated Reader are now entirely different: you wouldn’t recognise our libraries now, and it’s fabulous! We’re still implementing new reading strategies, even to this day. As a progressive trust, we’re always willing to give freedom to staff to try new things, but everyone must be involved. For instance, we used information from the Education Endowment Foundation’s study on Accelerated Reader to incorporate new reading standards: and now we have a whole new approach to teaching reading.

“Now we have a whole new approach to teaching reading.”

When we found out how many words per minute children have to read within SATs tests, that was a big shock for us. We realised the reason why some pupils’ progress was significantly lower was was because it took them so long to read the material within a test paper, so now we ensure that all schools are supporting pupils to improve this; this intervention has led to better scores.

We prioritise reading across the trust, and we’ve made sure that reading is on every school’s improvement plan this year. During recent inspections, Ofsted were impressed with how the in-depth information provided by Accelerated Reader and Star Reading supported us in planning for further progression. We ensure that our trust-wide budgets include purchasing new and quality books to stock all school libraries. Last year, we had a successful external grant application to receive an additional £4000 on library books. We were only able to receive this funding because of the improvements we’d seen in reading across all of our schools.

We’ve had a massive show of support from parents across all schools throughout the trust. As a trust, we relayed the message to all parents that we need to be more focused on how children are engaging with reading and that parents need to be recording this information. We have 64% proportion of disadvantaged pupils making up the entire pupil population of the trust. Many of these pupils come from homes that don’t have any reading materials other than digital devices and video games. So, as a trust, we set several new initiatives to encourage parents to listen to children read and record their progress. For example, if a child reads four times a week, the parent receives a raffle ticket that puts them in with a chance of winning a £20 shopping voucher. All schools in the trust now replicate the shopping voucher initiative.

In the last year, using the data from Accelerated Reader and Star Reading, we looked at the reading ages of all pupils across the trust. We divided them into one of three tiers based on how good a reader they were:

  • Tier 1: urgent intervention – staff must read one-to-one with these pupils every day in school.
  • Tier 2: intervention required – staff must read one-to-one with these pupils several times a week.
  • Tier 3: on track – staff must read one-to-one with these pupils once a week.

As a trust, we decided to redeploy teaching interventions based on Star Reading data. Ofsted were impressed with the structure of our tiering system, especially as we allow pupils to transition between tiers based on their current reading performance. We now use the Star Reading baseline assessment from the beginning of each academic year to allocate each pupils into a tier, and throughout the rest of the academic year, all schools submit their data each half term, which is shared openly amongst the whole trust. From this, we deploy our DTLs according to where the greatest need is after each data drop. Additionally, we use the data to learn from each other and allow our teachers to visit our most influential schools – CPD at its best!

“As a trust, [Star Reading] has supported the way we proactively deploy our staff and signpost teachers to personalised CPD.”

This valuable data has helped us to focus on the reading skills in greater detail as well as tracking pupil progress regularly. Star Reading has enhanced our process of teaching reading, but most importantly, as a trust, it has supported the way we proactively deploy our staff and signpost teachers to personalised CPD.

School closures


Since school closures, in March 2020, we’ve asked all families to continue to access Accelerated Reader at home: however, a lot of homes have bad internet connections which means that a lot of children could be viewing learning resources on their parent’s smartphones rather than the pupil’s own, appropriately sized device: and so, one of our DTLs put together seven weeks’ worth of work during school closures. We have supplemented this with activities that pupils can access if they have limited internet access.


For more information on how Renaissance can support your Multi-Academy Trust, click here.

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