Education Endowment Foundation:Literacy Catch-Up Projects

Literacy Catch-Up Projects

Press Release •8 minutes •

In May 2012 the Department for Education awarded the Education Endowment Foundation a further £10 million for a grants round dedicated to literacy catch-up projects for children at the primary-secondary transition. The protocols outlining the research design for these projects can be found in the download section below.


There has been a good deal of sound academic research on the impact of methods to improve reading comprehension. A great deal is understood about the principles of effective reading comprehension instruction. What is needed now is rigorous investigation of programmes that help teachers put these principles into practice.

The EEF is funding four projects focusing on comprehension to improve literacy. Collectively these will involve up to 122 schools and will reach some 2,530 pupils. The projects are:

  • £525,000 to University College London to compare the effectiveness of a phonics-focused intervention with one that integrates phonics and comprehension strategies. The project will be run as a randomised control trial and delivered individually or in small groups, with sessions run by trained teaching assistants and will reach 20 schools in Yorkshire and Humber.
  • £397,315 to Coventry University to trial the Reading Agency’s Chatterbooks programme, along with a dialogic approach to teaching reading comprehension. The project will be run as a randomised control trial with three groups: one that participates in the basic Chatterbooks programme, one that receives Chatterbooks plus some dialogic reading instruction, and one that will act as a waitlisted control group. The project will involve 25 – 30 schools in the West Midlands and reach 400 pupils.
  • £393,570 to Bolton Council to run a randomised control trial of the Vocabulary Enrichment Intervention, a programme designed to expand pupils’ vocabulary by cultivating their enthusiasm for language and equipping them with specific strategies for learning and recalling new terms. The project will involve 17 schools in Bolton and reach 400 pupils.
  • £78,755 to Adamsrill Primary School to run a randomised control trial to test the impact of the Rhythm for Reading programme developed by Dr Marion Long. This is a simple rhythm-based intervention designed to improve reading comprehension. The project will involve 5 schools in Lewisham and reach 200 pupils.


Fluent decoding – the process of translating print into speech by rapidly matching a letter or combination of letters to its sound and recognizing the patterns that make syllables and words – is the foundation on which literacy is built. There is strong evidence from a wide range of high-quality studies that phonics approaches are very effective, particularly for disadvantaged children, and that they are a highly cost-effective intervention. Further research is required on phonics for older readers, addressing particularly the issues of how to target children accurately and how to ensure materials and instructional approaches are age appropriate’.

The EEF is funding five projects focusing on decoding to improve literacy. Collectively these will involve up to 80 schools and will reach some 5,500 pupils. The projects are:

  • £520,064 to North Tyneside Council to run a randomised control trial on the impact of paired reading approaches, with Year 9 pupils tutoring Year 7 pupils in English in structured sessions for 15 weeks. This will be the first trial of peer tutoring in UK secondary schools. The project will involve nine schools in North Tyneside and reach 3,600 pupils.
  • £457,980 to Real Action to conduct a randomised control trial of their Butterfly programme. This is a straightforward approach to teaching synthetic phonics, in which children are taught to decode words by sounding out letters and combinations of letters. It is distinctive in two respects: it will be delivered mainly by undergraduate students, and will use a heavily didactic approach – the children will interact mainly with the class tutor rather than with each other. This project will involve six schools in London and reach 400 pupils.
  • £390,206 to Dyslexia Action to run a randomised control trial of a computer-based phonics programme, Units of Sound, created as a second chance’ phonics instruction intervention for older pupils. Pupils use the programme to learn and practise independently at a level that is appropriate for them. The approach is also being translated into resources for parents to use to support learning at home. This project will involve 50 schools (location to be confirmed) and reach 1,000 pupils.
  • £148,217 to Norfolk Council to conduct a randomised control trial of the Rapid Phonics’ approach, built on the idea that, because phonics is a relatively dry subject, catch up lessons need to be snappy’: quick, memorable, and fun. It will aim to improve the literacy of struggling readers at the end of Year 6 and beginning of Year 7. This project will involve three schools in Norfolk and reach 150 pupils.
  • £390,000 to run four trials of Fresh Start, a phonics programme for older children. The four trials are being led by Harlow Education Consortium, Withernsea High School, Ercall Wood Technology College and Bridgwater High School and all are working with at least one other school. Each trial is being run as a randomised controlled trial and the results will be aggregated.

Reading for Pleasure

Reading for pleasure interventions are designed to promote children’s enjoyment of books and encourage them to see reading as a pastime rather than a chore. There is some research evidence which suggests that reading for pleasure is important for both personal and academic development. Interventions in this area tend to be cheap and easy to administer, so even small effects may be enough to make the approach attractive.

The EEF is funding three projects focusing on comprehension to improve literacy. Collectively these will involve up to 50 schools and will reach some 2,000 pupils. The projects are:

  • £218,414 to Book Trust to evaluate the impact of providing reading material and volunteer support to 900 children over the summer holidays. Children involved will receive a personalised package of children’s books and participate in events over the summer.
  • £480,953 to Unitas to test the impact of a volunteer-led one-to-one reading programme. The programme consists of daily 20 minute reading sessions delivered over 10 – 15 weeks, and students will participate in Liverpool, London, Oldham and Staffordshire.
  • £147,000 for four secondary schools – Thornaby Academy, St. John’s C of E School, Broadgreen High School and Tideway School – to run randomised controlled trials of Accelerated Reader, a web-based programme that carefully matches books to pupils’ reading abilities, offers quizzes to check understanding and rewards engagement. The results from the four trials will be aggregated to understand the effect of Accelerated Reader across the four schools.


Improving writing is important in its own right, and has also been linked to improved reading comprehension. The average scores for writing in Key Stage 2 SATs are consistently lower than for reading and there is a noticeable gender gap throughout all Key Stages.

The EEF is funding three projects that focus on improving writing, all of which will be tested through randomised controlled trials. Collectively these will involve up to 74 schools and will reach some 2,380 pupils. They are:

  • £395,850 to the Calderdale Excellence Partnership to provide memorable experiences to students in four schools in Yorkshire. The experiences will be used as the starting point for improving writing and approaches used to teach about the writing process will adopt many of the features of a well-tested intervention – Self-Regulated Strategy Development instruction.
  • £240,652 to Discover Children’s Story Centre to run a four week summer programme between Year 6 and Year 7. The programme will include a variety of workshops including poetry sessions, functional literacy sessions, reading sessions, and trips to performances, festivals, and libraries.
  • £338,752 to the University of Exeter in partnership with the National Association of Teachers of English. The programme, which builds on the ESRC Grammar for Writing project, seeks to improve children’s writing by showing them how to manipulate grammar and syntax to achieve different effects on the reader.

Mixed approaches

Mixed approaches combine two or more of the strategies above. The EEF is funding eight projects in this category. Collectively these will involve up to 80 schools and will reach some 5,300 pupils. The projects are:

  • £70,575 to Switch On to test the impact of a literacy programme for underperforming Key Stage 3 pupils. The programme incorporates – in a simplified form – elements of other reading programmes; the proposed trial will involve 15 secondary schools in Nottinghamshire.
  • £429,553 to Catch Up Literacy to test the impact of a structured literacy intervention delivered by teaching assistants in 15 local authorities across England. The programme provides two 15 minute teaching sessions to each child per week and adopts a combination of segmenting, blending phonemes and memorising letter names of high frequency sight words.
  • £550,347 to CUREE and Achievement for All to trial Response to Intervention, a system for identifying under-performing pupils and providing evidence-based interventions. The programme, developed in the US, has some promising evidence supporting its impact, but has not been rigorously evaluated in England.
  • £455,800 to Shine Trust to test the impact of a summer school programme providing additional lessons for 480 pupils in London and Manchester. The programme will have an emphasis on literacy tuition, but also include enrichment activities to engage and motivate pupils.
  • £726,112 to Success for All to test a computer-assisted learning programme and an approach to teaching English in Year 7 which focuses on collaborative learning and individualised teaching. The programme will involve 1740 pupils across 35 schools in Yorkshire and the Humber.
  • £306,000 to Perry Beeches Academy to test the impact of one to one academic coaching on literacy outcomes. Graduate coaches provide intensive tuition to pupils in key subjects. 480 students will receive some form of tuition across four secondary schools and two academic years.
  • £148,000 to Greenford High School to develop and pilot a programme to improve pupils’ speaking and listening skills. The programme will aim to improve the quality of classroom talk and also train teaching assistants to deliver targeted interventions. The project will work with 240 students across three schools.