Investing in Literacy

Sir Kevan Collins on the Education Endowment Foundation’s new campaign to improve literacy levels in the North East.

Much has been made of the transformation of inner-London schools into an education powerhouse; their achievements are certainly one of the success stories of recent times. But as schools in the capital consistently produce great results, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, some areas of the UK have been left lagging far behind.

Just last month a report from IPPR found that disadvantaged pupils in the north of England are falling behind similar children in the south before they start school. This Tuesday Nicky Morgan outlined plans to tackle underachievement by creating a National Teaching Service to get ‘super teachers’ into struggling coastal and rural schools.

In our bid to raise standards, it’s absolutely essential that we strive for a system where any child can fulfil their potential and make the most of their talents. Not only do we need to break the pervasive link between family income and educational attainment, but we also need to make sure that geography and where a child lives and goes to school doesn’t affect their educational outcomes too.

At the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), we are launching a £10m campaign with Northern Rock Foundation to improve literacy outcomes for primary school pupils in the North East. The campaign is designed to address both the geographic and social disadvantage that many of these students face by capturing the best of what works locally and drawing on the wider evidence base to embed evidence-based practice within the system.

Almost two in five primary school pupils in the North East are classified as disadvantaged and they are twice as likely as their fellow pupils to begin secondary school struggling to read and write. Without good literacy skills by the end of primary school, the educational prospects for this group are bleak. Tracking the progress of a number of cohorts indicates that for children who fail to secure the expected levels at the end of primary school just one in ten will go on to achieve five or more good GCSEs, including English and maths.

Focusing particularly on the schools with the highest numbers of disadvantaged pupils and greatest literacy challenges, we will spend £8m directly funding both programmes that have already been evaluated by the EEF with good results and support disciplined innovations that show promise.

In addition, we’ll recruit a network of advocates to develop strong relationships with schools across the North East, especially those in the most deprived areas, to support them to use the latest evidence to ensure high quality literacy teaching and learning for their pupils. These will be trusted organisations that can develop strong relationships with schools and encourage collaboration.

The launch of our North East literacy campaign, together with our Yorkshire-based teaching assistants’ campaign, represents an exciting new phase in the EEF’s life. We’ve been independently evaluating different programmes for four years now and have built up a body of robust evidence of what works.

Implementing campaigns will help us to achieve impact on a larger scale. Over the next five years, we aim to reach all 880 primary schools in the North East. Any that wants to will be able to take part in programmes funded throughout the campaign and all will have access to school improvement resources such as evidence-based guidance reports.

By investing in the North East, we hope to work with a range of local partners focused on building a reliable and self-improving primary school system which will ensure as many pupils as possible, regardless of social or geographic background, can read and write well. The prize on offer is great: better outcomes for all.