Catch Up Literacy

Catch Up1 Literacy is a structured one-to-one literacy intervention for pupils between the ages of 6 and 14 who are struggling to learn to read. It teaches pupils to blend phonemes (combine letter sounds into words), segment phonemes (separate words into letter sounds), and memorise particular words so they can be understood without needing to use phonics strategies to decode them. The intervention matches books to pupils according to their reading ability, which pupils then read to a teaching assistant (TA), so is intended to also support the development of their comprehension skills.

In this evaluation, the intervention was delivered through two 15-minute sessions per week over 30 weeks at the transition from primary to secondary school, with a break for the summer holidays. Pupils were identified by their Year 6 teachers in their feeder primary schools as being struggling readers who were predicted to achieve below level 4b in reading. Each secondary school employed two part-time TAs to deliver the intervention in the last few weeks of Year 6 and after the pupils transitioned to secondary school. The TAs delivering Catch Up Literacy were supplied with detailed session plans and received three half-day training sessions led by Catch Up.

The study was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation as one of 23 projects focused on literacy catch-up at the primary—secondary transition.

  1. Catch Up® is a not-for-profit UK registered charity (1072425). Catch Up® is a registered trademark.

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. The pupils that received Catch Up Literacy made more progress than pupils that did not. However, this difference was not statistically significant so we cannot be confident that it was not due to chance.

  2. Catch Up Literacy did have a statistically significant impact on pupils’ attitudes to school, self-assessed ability in reading, and their confidence in and enjoyment of writing.

  3. Schools should ensure that Catch Up Literacy sessions are located in a private and quiet location, and that teaching assistants are given adequate time to prepare before each lesson.

  4. Teaching assistants reported a number of benefits for their own professional development. These include increases in confidence, knowledge of literacy support and overall job satisfaction.

  5. Future research could test the impact of Catch Up Literacy against an “active” control group that receives the same amount of one-to-one tuition as the pupils who receive Catch Up Literacy.

What is the impact?

The pupils who took part in Catch Up Literacy made more progress than the pupils in the control group. This difference was not statistically significant, so we do not have sufficient evidence to confidently conclude that the effect did not occur by chance. The effects of the intervention on pupils of different genders and pupils who are eligible for free school meals (FSM) were similar to those in the main analysis, but also not statistically significant.

Positive and statistically significant outcomes were recorded on other measures. Pupils who received the Catch Up intervention appeared to develop more positive attitudes towards school, a higher self-reported score for reading confidence and ability, and a more positive rating for writing confidence and enjoyment. These outcomes had effect sizes of 0.25, 0.32 and 0.23 respectively. The process evaluation indicated that most TAs believed Catch Up Literacy had a number of benefits for their own professional development, and a positive impact on pupils’ confidence and engagement with learning. 

Intervention vs control (all pupils)557 pupils (15 schools)0.12 (-0.02 – 0.25)+2 months
Intervention vs control (FSM)115 pupils (15 schools)0.004 (-0.30 – 0.30)0 monthsN/A

How secure is the finding?

The primary analysis is judged to be of moderate to high security and was awarded a security rating of 4 padlocks. The evaluation was set up as a randomised controlled trial. A maximum of 60 pupils from each of the 15 secondary schools were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a control group that received “business-as-usual” classroom teaching, an intervention group that received Catch Up Literacy, and a reserve group. Due to timing issues, pupils were selected prior to sitting their SATs. As Key Stage 2 results were used to control for prior attainment in the final analysis, the reserve group was used to replace pupils in the experimental groups if they did not complete Key Stage assessments. The developer led the training and oversaw the provision of the intervention, so it should be considered an efficacy trial.

Attrition was just above 5%, but this was evenly spread across the control and intervention groups, and there was no evidence that the attrition led to a biased trial. Pupils’ literacy skills were estimated using the New Group Reading Test (Test 3a and 3b). Blind marking of test papers was undertaken, but both the attainment tests and the intervention were delivered by the same TAs and this should be considered as a threat to the validity of the measurements.

Pupils in the intervention group received one-to-one tuition as part of Catch Up Literacy, whereas the control group received normal classroom teaching. This introduces the possibility that a proportion of any observed effect was caused by the more intensive tuition received by the intervention group, not by any particular characteristics of the Catch Up Literacy intervention.

To view the project's evaluation protocol click here.

How much does it cost?

All of the direct costs to schools were borne by the EEF grant for the project. The evaluator used this information and the number of pupils receiving the intervention to estimate that Catch Up Literacy cost an average of £769 per pupil in this evaluation. This estimate includes the salary costs of TAs and the cost of the training provided by Catch Up. This cost will be lower if more pupils are involved in the intervention, as the cost of training a TA will be spread out over more pupils. The cost will also be lower if schools do not implement Catch Up Literacy as an additional activity that requires paying TAs for more time, but use it to replace things they were already doing, as this will eliminate the salary cost from the cost estimate above. The training provided by Catch Up costs £350 per attendee. The independent evaluator did not look at additional costs that were associated with attendance at this training or additional resources that may have been required to deliver the intervention successfully.