In the early days of my time as a secondary school mathematics teacher, I was surprised to find myself becoming increasingly concerned about the reading skills of pupils in my classes. Despite my best efforts in developing their mathematical skills, it was too often mathematical literacy difficulties that were the barrier to my pupils reaching their full potential. The reality is that pupils who struggle to develop as readers will find it hard to cope independently with the reading challenges of school and will see reading as a problem rather than as a tool for learning (nasen, 2014).

This situation in relation to mathematical literacy is echoed across many subject areas, meaning that the ability to read fluently could be described as a gateway to the wider curriculum. Individual pupils will have different starting points, different developmental barriers and different motivational parameters, so the need to use a trusted source for reading assessments is essential. An effective reading assessment should be fully adaptive and standardised so it can be used as a tool to support personalised learning through the graduated approach. It should inform the planning of interventions by identifying those pupils who need support and those who need to be stretched.

In the context of a school, it is important to ensure that whoever undertakes the reading assessment with a pupil shares the findings and recommendations with the relevant wider staff and other key stakeholders in a meaningful way. This will ensure there is a consistency and coordination in the approach used for interventions of differentiation across all subject areas, which will help to avoid duplication and maximise impact.

As with many aspects of learning, it is important to note that pupils may not always develop their reading fluency linearly. For example, pupils may have bursts of rapid progress and periods of slow progress relative to other pupils. Therefore, the monitoring and tracking of progress over time can be a useful part of any annual review process.

Adam Boddison

The reality is that pupils who struggle to develop as readers will find it hard to cope independently with the reading challenges of school and will see reading as a problem rather than as a tool for learning.

Individual pupils will have different starting points, different developmental barriers and different motivational parameters, so the need to use a trusted source for reading assessments is essential.

The role of the SENCO

The Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) in a school can often get mired in paperwork and administration (Curran et al, 2018; Curran et al 2020; Whalley, 2018), which may limit their capacity to support the development of high quality inclusive teaching across the school. If we consider SENCOs as having significant expertise in differentiation, accessibility and inclusion, and Heads of English as having significant expertise in the assessment and development of literacy skills, there can often be a debate about who should take the lead on identification and any subsequent interventions.

In practice, a partnership approach is needed to provide appropriate support for individual pupils and this should sit within a wider school-wide literacy development plan, which has the backing of school leaders and governors.

It is known that early identification and provision can be effective for meeting literacy needs (Faucet and Jones, 2019). However, a particular challenge for SENCOs in achieving this is being able to distinguish between differences in reading fluency that fall within normal levels of childhood development and those that require the additional investment of targeted interventions. A genuine child-centred approach and meaningful collaboration with families is vital in understanding pupils and their needs, but the reliability and validity of reading assessments also requires an effective reading assessment tool.

If we consider the latest available reading performance data from PISA (OECD, 2019), it is clear that girls outperform boys in every participating country. We also know that in general significantly more boys are identified with special educational needs than girls (NAO, 2019). This begs the question as to whether it is quality of assessment or the quality of any subsequent intervention that we need to focus on to support boys in particular to improve their reading.

Whatever approach is taken in relation to the development of literacy skills, I would encourage you not to lose sight of the importance of developing a love of reading in our pupils. Reading may well be a gateway to the wider curriculum, but reading for pleasure is a gateway to so much more.

References

Reading may well be a gateway to the wider curriculum, but reading for pleasure is a gateway to so much more.

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Ongoing assessment of your students’ reading allows you to identify any gaps they may have - and our New Group Reading Test® (NGRT) is an ideal starting point. NGRT is a standardised, termly assessment that reliably measures reading skills against the national average, and it can be used alongside other assessments to pinpoint where support is needed and demonstrate the impact of your interventions.

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Natasha Cartwright

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