News and opinion

Matt Davis and Marian Gould

Focus on: literacy

04 April 2018

Matt Davis is UK Director at Education Development Trust and a former teacher, manager, researcher and trainer while Marian Gould, as UK Contracts Programme Manager, has been instrumental to the success of many of our programmes over the last 20 years.

Education Development Trust turns 50 this year and over the last half century, we have been involved in designing and delivering many different programmes to improve literacy. Right now, we are working with every government school in Rwanda as well as every school in Brunei specifically to improve English and literacy. Our work with randomised controlled trials sees schools measuring interventions for improving literacy and we are currently conducting what looks to be seminal research into what contributes to the success of literacy at Key Stage 2 in England.

National literacy strategy in England and Wales

And improving literacy has always been on our agenda: we worked with all schools and teachers across Wales to embed the Literacy and Numeracy Framework into curriculum planning and teaching and learning and from 2013 to 2016 we delivered Closing the Gap: test and learn, a Department for Education programme that put interventions to improve literacy in primary and secondary schools to the test. And of course, we delivered the National Strategies from 1996 to 2005. The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies were set up to improve the pedagogy and the quality of children’s learning in literacy and mathematics in every primary school classroom in England. They represent the most ambitious centrally conceived and directed professional learning programme that has ever been attempted in England and children today are still benefitting from the legacy of our work.

Literacy is a common and recurring strand in education policy around the world and we have addressed it across the spectrum from conducting research into what works to advising on national policy to on-the-ground implementation of improvement strategies.

What works?

So what does work? How does a school or a nation raise standards in literacy? In our experience, it is about getting the teaching right. We have had significant – repeated and sustainable – success with our coaching and mentoring approach: we identify and work with a network of enthusiastic teachers to be trained in effective teaching methods and they in turn work with a cluster of schools. Embedding the behavioural culture change is key and we support this with targeted professional development as well as well-designed resources. Wherever possible, we adopt a holistic approach and we work with the family and the community to ensure that good practice continues beyond the school gates; equally we ensure teachers are able to identify marginalised groups of learners and we ensure they have a range of adaptive teaching methods to use.

It takes sustained and consistent effort to raise standards in literacy and, not surprisingly, we advocate getting the foundations right from an early age. But it is of course achievable, and the benefits will be reaped for generations to come.