The ability to read and write is essential to everyday life and work. As such, improving literacy attainment was a founding aim of the EEF, and a large number of EEF projects and resources are dedicated to it. For example, in 2012, the EEF funded evaluations of 24 literacy catch-up projects for children at the transition from primary to secondary school and in November 2015, the EEF and Northern Rock Foundation announced that they would together fund a £10 million campaign to improve primary literacy in the North East, which involves developing and evaluating promising new approaches to teaching literacy.

This page presents evidence on literacy from the Teaching and Learning Toolkit alongside the findings from recent EEF projects investigating literacy interventions and the Reading at the Transition Interim Evidence Brief. 

Evidence Summary

The evidence suggests that children benefit from being taught in a rich literacy environment, which should involve a range of strategies. The following are some of the most promising approaches which emerge from the evidence so far:

  • Oral language interventions which focus on spoken language and verbal interaction in the classroom appear to benefit all pupils. Some studies also show slightly larger effects for younger children and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. A focus on oral language skills will have benefits for both reading and writing.
  • Phonics approaches have been consistently found to be effective in supporting younger pupils (4-7 year olds) to learn to read. However, the evidence suggests that effective phonics teaching is usually embedded in a rich literacy environment and is only one part of a successful literacy strategy.
  • Reading comprehension approaches which focus on learners’ understanding of the text have had positive impacts. They teach a range of techniques that enable pupils to comprehend the meaning of what is written, such as inferring the meaning from context, summarising or identifying key points, using graphic or semantic organisers, developing questioning strategies, and monitoring their own comprehension and identifying difficulties themselves. These approaches appear to be particularly effective for older readers (aged 8 or above) who are not making expected progress.

It is important to remember that no particular strategy should be seen as a panacea, and careful diagnosis of the reasons why an individual pupil is struggling is very important when exploring possible intervention strategies.

As pupils pick up literacy skills at different rates, the strategic use of small group and one to one tuition can be useful in preventing pupils from falling too far behind. For example, the EEF funded an evaluation of Switch-on Reading, a one to one reading intervention for struggling readers. Switch-on Reading appeared to have a positive impact on the reading ability of pupils in year 7 who had not achieved Level 4 English at Key Stage 2.

Another EEF-funded project “Using Self-Regulation to Improve Writing” tested an approach to teaching writing called ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Development’ (SRSD). The approach was designed to help struggling writers in Years 6 and 7 by providing a clear structure to help them plan, monitor and evaluate their writing. SRSD aims to encourage pupils to take ownership of their work and can be used to teach most genres of writing, including narrative writing. In the EEF project, SRSD had a strong positive effect on the writing of low attaining pupils at the transition from primary to secondary school.  

Using Self-Regulation to Improve Writing

Calderdale Excellence Partnership

A programme which aims to improve pupils’ writing by promoting self-regulation.

grade promising project
Evidence Strength
Months Impact
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Units of Sound

Dyslexia Action

A computer-based phonics programme for Year 7 pupils who are struggling with reading.

Evidence Strength
Months Impact
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As part of the EEF and Northern Rock Foundation’s five year campaign to improve literacy outcomes in the North East, the EEF will publish a series of guidance reports on primary literacy teaching. The first guidance report, which focuses on literacy in Key Stage 1, can be found below. 

The Reading at the Transition Evidence Brief summarises the evidence a range of catch-up approaches for struggling readers at the transition from primary to secondary school.

  1. Updated: 13th October, 2016

    Key Stage 1 Literacy Guidance (Printable)

    1 MB pdf - KS1_Literacy_Guidance_-_Printable.pdf

    A printable version of the literacy guidance

  2. Updated: 13th October, 2016

    Key Stage 1 Literacy Guidance Poster

    35 KB pdf - KS1_Literacy_Guidance_-_Poster.pdf

    A poster containing the eight recommendations from the guidance report

  3. Updated: 12th February, 2016


    646 KB pdf

  4. Updated: 13th October, 2016

    Key Stage 1 Literacy Guidance

    1 MB pdf - KS1_Literacy_Guidance.pdf

    Evidence based recomendations on improving literacy in Key Stage 1