REAding with CompreHension Primary (REACH Primary) is a targeted intervention for struggling Year 3 (age 7 – 8) readers that comprises two strands: Reading Intervention (RI) sessions, delivered twice per week, and Oral Language Intervention (OL) sessions, delivered weekly. REACH Primary is designed to be delivered by Teaching Assistants (TAs), who have been nominated by their school and received training from the REACH delivery team at Leeds University in advance.
RI sessions target word recognition/decoding skills to improve fluent and accurate reading through a variety of activities such as tactile letters, worksheets, games, support to read new books, assembling and writing new sentences. OL sessions are discussion based and aim to improve comprehension ability: pupils complete a variety of activities based on stories read aloud by the TA. Stories include a range of complex vocabulary, figurative language and opportunities for practicing reciprocal teaching strategies.
In 2015, the UK government reported that 29% of students did not reach the expected standard in reading at the end of primary school. According to the Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986), two components are essential to reading with meaning: decoding and language comprehension. REACH Primary targets both components in one 20-week intervention programme.
In a previous REACH efficacy trial, around six months additional progress was observed where secondary school pupils had received both the reading intervention and language intervention. However, this trial received a low security rating (two EEF padlocks). This second efficacy trial was aimed at Year 3 children identified as performing below national expectations in reading by their school. The intervention was expected to have larger effects in this group due to the Reading Intervention strand, and to reduce the testing burden on schools by using KS1 scores as a pre-test.
This trial was subject to disruption as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and school closures in March 2020. For some schools this disrupted their 20-week delivery period. It is likely that the knock-on impact of the pandemic and associated school workload led to greater attrition from the project than might have been expected.
The trial found that children in REACH Primary schools made the equivalent of two fewer months’ progress in reading, on average, compared to children in other schools, with some evidence of positive impact on disadvantaged pupils and of negative impact on non-disadvantaged pupils (based on small subsamples). The findings of this trial have a very low security rating (0 padlocks), due primarily to high attrition of more than 50% of pupils which is likely to be largely (but not entirely) because of the knock-on impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on schools and teacher workload. Therefore, all findings should be interpreted with caution.
Despite the considerable investment in staff time for schools taking part in REACH Primary, schools were mostly positive about the impact of the programme on TAs and pupils. Evidence from both TA and Senior Leadership (SL) surveys and interviews during school visits suggested that there were high levels of pupil engagement with the programme and TAs reported that the intervention had a significant impact on pupil engagement, particularly in reading.
No further trials of REACH Primary are currently planned.
- Children in REACH Primary schools made the equivalent of two fewer months’ progress in reading, on average, compared to children in other schools. This result has a very low security rating: circumstances largely relating to the impact of Covid-19 led to very high attrition and therefore no EEF padlocks could be given.
- There is some evidence of positive impact on disadvantaged pupils and of negative impact on non-disadvantaged pupils. However, these findings are based on small subsamples with high attrition, which limits their security.
- REACH Primary required a large commitment of TA time: interview data reported that senior leadership support for the programme was crucial to fidelity in the implementation. Baseline assessments and ongoing benchmarking was key to TAs’ understanding of pupils’ needs in reading: in schools visited, this was being implemented effectively.
- Evidence from both TA and senior leadership (SL) surveys and interviews during school visits suggested that there were high levels of pupil engagement with the programme. TAs also reported a positive impact on pupil engagement in reading, with pupils becoming increasingly motivated to read as the intervention progressed. However, this is not a formal causal interpretation.
- Some TAs found it more difficult to clearly articulate the value of the OL sessions. It is not clear whether this was due to lack of experience in supporting language comprehension processes or sessions being perceived as too challenging for some children, and less easy to personalise than the RI sessions.