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Reading is the vital skill, say secondary school heads
Buy this photo » Cherwell School head Paul James chats with pupils in the library
POOR literacy skills in children who arrive at secondary school holds them back in other subjects and they need intensive support to catch up.
That is according to secondary school headteachers from across Oxfordshire who have stressed the importance of getting children reading at a young age before reaching their second level of education.
The school leaders support the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign, an Oxfordshire County Council initiative run by the National Literacy Trust and backed by the Oxford Mail.
And they spoke of how children who enter Year 7 with a reading age below their actual age struggle.
Paul James, headteacher at The Cherwell School in Marston Ferry Road, North Oxford, said: “It affects all elements of the educational experience within the school.
“Children will be more successful if their literacy skills are higher.”
“The earlier students make progress, the better prepared they are to be able to keep up with the demands and challenges of a secondary school curriculum.”Jolie Kirby, headteacher of Cheney School, Headington
At Cherwell, he said there were between 20 and 30 pupils in each year group – about eight to 11 per cent of the year – who were seen regularly for reading interventions.
A further 15 to 40 children in each year lacked confidence in core skills of reading, writing and communicating, and received support from classroom teachers and lesson-based activities.
The school is currently bringing in extra staff so more children who struggle can get one-to-one or small group support from qualified teachers.
It is also developing a programme where sixth form students work with younger children with low literacy levels to help them.
Mr James said: “Some of these activities will take place during the school day but students also have to come in early and have a pre-school short, sharp literacy focus on a regular basis.”
The school held its first summer school for primary pupils this year – a two-week programme including literacy and numeracy activities aimed at helping bridge the gap between primary and secondary education.
Mr James said: “It affects every aspect of learning for the students and it affects the school in terms of curriculum design and staffing so it is a big issue for the school community and for the success of students.”
Carterton Community College headteacher Niall McWilliams said he believed reading was “the most important thing”.
He said: “There will be certain students who will never access the whole curriculum because we have got to keep working on their literacy skills.”
The school sends senior teachers into its feeder primary schools to help work on literacy skills before they arrive at secondary school, and brings teachers from the primaries to work in school.
A primary specialist is also employed to work with literacy groups as they move up from primary school to the first year at the college.
- For details on how you can help, see http://www.oxfordshirereading.co.uk
At Cheney School, Headington, headteacher Jolie Kirby said she was “very supportive” of the campaign, adding that the school invested significant resources into helping children develop the necessary literary skills.
She said: “It makes a huge difference if young people are confident and capable readers to enable them to access the curriculum.
“We have to put into place lots of additional lessons for them.
“Some of that requires one-to-one support to make sure they make the progress so they can understand and access the lessons.”
Cheney is also working with Oxford’s new Story Museum to help support oral and reading skills. This year staff also held a summer school for about 30 primary children, which will be extended next summer.
Mrs Kirby said: “It’s had a significant impact on the students who joined Cheney this year, they are making good progress at the start of the new year.”
About 40 children each year need extra support with their literacy skills.
Mrs Kirby added: “The earlier students make progress, the better prepared they are to be able to keep up with the demands and challenges of a secondary school curriculum.”
Oxford Spires Academy headteacher Sue Croft said there was a strong correlation between literacy levels and success at GCSE.
More than one in four children at the school requires extra help with reading. Mrs Croft said: “It is the single most important skill that students need to start secondary school with.
“It is a very complex skill, it’s not just a matter of can they read, can they decode, it’s about levels of comprehension as well.
“It affects confidence, their ability to read the instructions, understand learning objectives and understand all the other subjects in the curriculum.”
All the headteachers said there were some pupils whose reading skills were so poor they would not study a foreign language, concentrating instead on their English.
- Visit oxfordmail.co.uk/reading_ campaign to get involved
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