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Hele's School

Hele's School

Hele's School A great place to learn. A great place to grow.


Why is it Important?

'Being literate is the ability to read, write, speak and listen well. Good literacy enables us to communicate effectively, understand written information and make sense of the world.

Lacking vital literacy skills holds a person back at every stage of their life: as a child they won't be able to succeed at school, as a young adult they will be locked out of the job market, and as a parent they won't be able to support their children's learning. This intergenerational cycle makes social mobility more difficult.'

-National Literacy Trust report: Literacy and Life Expectancy


'Young people who leave school without good literacy skills are held back at every stage of life. Their outcomes are poorer on almost every measure, from health and wellbeing, to employment and finance.'

-EEF Guidance Report: Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools


Our literacy strategy is underpinned by the WeST vision that every student will read at -or above- an age appropriate level. Writing, speaking and listening are essential parts of effective communication but a student’s development in these areas is inextricably linked to the breadth and depth of their vocabulary. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” and we believe that reading is the cornerstone of language development. Our goal is to use reading to remove the limits of our students’ vocabulary and, in doing so, remove any limits to their potential.


How Does Hele's School Promote Literacy?

Developing a student’s vocabulary is a complex and multidimensional endeavour. We based our approach on the seven recommendations made by the EEF in their 2019 report; Improving Literacy in Secondary Education.

  • Prioritise ‘disciplinary literacy’ across the curriculum
  • Provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject
  • Develop students’ ability to read complex academic texts
  • Break down complex writing tasks
  • Combine writing instruction with reading in every subject
  • Provide opportunities for structured talk
  • Provide high quality literacy interventions for struggling students

Drawing on a combination of Trust support, in-house expertise and a range of evidence-based research we agreed upon a range of approaches and strategies which will have a positive and significant impact on our students. However, in order to better understand the potential impact of these recommendations, it may be more helpful re-categorise them as follows:

Developing Vocabulary

  • Prioritise ‘disciplinary literacy’ across the curriculum
  • Provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject

Improving Reading

  • Develop students’ ability to read complex academic texts

Supporting Writing

  • Combine writing instruction with reading in every subject
  • Break down complex writing tasks

Promoting Oracy

  • Provide opportunities for structured talk

Targeting support and intervention to remove vocabulary gaps

  • Provide high quality literacy interventions for struggling students

The challenge for schools is to create a comprehensive literacy strategy which addresses these seven recommendations in a straightforward fashion resisting the urge to overcomplicate the process. With this in mind, we have chosen to focus on the following areas in 2021-22:

  1. Assessing needs

We utilise a range of objective and standardised assessments to identify students’ needs and track progress:

  • CAT4
  • NGRT and NGST
  • English Progress Tests
  • No More Marking comparative judgements assessments (Trust-wide and nationwide)

The data provided by these assessments is then analysed and presented in a user-friendly format for staff to use when planning lessons. Students individual data is included on Classcharts seating plans which allow staff to make informed decisions regarding support and challenge.

To accurately measure reading and writing progress, the NGRT, English Progress and No More Marking tests are held at the start of the academic year and then repeated during term 4 or 5 (depending on year group). The data is then reviewed and used to re-focus planning and intervention.


  1. Targeting support and intervention

High quality teaching across the curriculum will reduce the need for extra literacy support. Nevertheless, it is likely that a small number of students will require additional support- in the form of high quality, structured, targeted interventions- to make progress (EEF)

The data gathered from our assessments leads to precision diagnosis and data-led intervention. NGRT data is analysed to ensure that reading choices are appropriate to the needs of the cohort. Where NGRT identifies a significant shortfall in reading ability, YARC is used to identify individual student needs. This then informs intervention and class teaching.

For students who are identified as reading significantly below an age appropriate level, we offer an adapted English curriculum and targeted intervention. Students who recorded an NGRT score lower than 85 follow an adapted English curriculum (led by our Head of KS3 English) which runs parallel to the mainstream programme of study. This curriculum offers and increased focus on developing decoding skills, phonic recognition, comprehension and inference.

Additionally, the small class size allows for greater individual teacher and LSA support. The class is also supported by a primary specialist Literacy Tutor who delivers small group intervention focused on addressing gaps in KS2 literacy knowledge. To help build the students’ confidence and encourage reading for pleasure, all students are paired with a post-16 reading mentor who reads with them for 30 minutes per week. To ensure that these students’ needs are addressed across the wider curriculum, their reading ages and needs are shared with all subject teachers.

Students who are identified as ‘very high’ ability readers across Years 7, 8 and 9 are referred to our Centre of Excellence coordinator to encourage their enrolment in our supra-curricular programme.

We are trialling a tutor reading programme in which Year 7 students read a novel every term. All tutor groups read a novel selected for its academic challenge, cultural relevance and inspiring message. As in lessons, the tutor uses ‘control the game’ to ensure student are actively engaged in reading.

Year 10 students follow a weekly literacy programme in tutor time, alternating between reading comprehension and writing skills. Through this, students are exposed to a range of texts, challenging vocabulary and different writing styles and genres. These activities have been curated by our English team to ensure they offer a blend of cross-curricular relevance and encourage students to explore current affairs in a safe environment.


  1. Developing Vocabulary

Across the curriculum, we prioritise ‘disciplinary literacy’ and provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject through the consistent use of Frayer models. Frayer models give students a structured opportunity to explore new tier 3 vocabulary through effective teacher instruction. The instruction phase includes specific reference to etymology and morphology which help students remember new words and make connections between words.  

Students in Year 7 take part in weekly spelling quizzes which support their retention of previously taught tier 2 and 3 vocabulary. An analysis of student responses is then fed back to Heads of Department to help them assess vocabulary retention and plan subsequent teaching and retrieval practice.


  1. Improving Reading

This consistent approach to the teaching of vocabulary is complemented by a whole school approach to developing students’ ability to read complex academic texts. ‘Control the Game’ is a guided reading strategy which allows teachers to model effective reading of high-quality academic texts, address misconceptions, introduce vocabulary and ensure student engagement. To encourage independent reading, we use ‘Read and Tell’. These reading strategies support active engagement with texts that improve comprehension. Students benefit from the opportunity to see academic reading skills modelled effectively by teachers and then have opportunities to practice these independently

All students in Year 7, 8 and 9 follow our weekly Forensic Reading curriculum. FR is intended to support the WeST of enabling students to read more, read better and read for pleasure. The programme also helps support the development of background knowledge and cultural capital.

We explore every opportunity to celebrate reading across the school. Forensic Reading classes visit the library for a research lesson on a termly basis to explore our range of non-fiction and all subjects timetable subject based lessons when relevant to their current scheme of learning. Following a period of restricted use due to COVID-19, the library is once more a focal point for our student community. In addition to our homework club (which runs Monday to Friday 3:10 -4:30) students are encouraged to use the library as it is the base for a range of clubs and activities such as:

  • KS3 and KS4 Book Club
  • Manga Club
  • Carnegie Shadowing
  • Year 7 Readathon
  • Web-based Author talks
  • Student-led reading recommendations for displays
  • Reading competitions and activities linked to wider events (Black History Month, British Science Week, LGBT month, Mental Health Awareness and World Book Day)


  1. Supporting Writing

The teacher instruction phase of lessons allows staff explicitly model how to write effectively in their subject. Once these expectations have been established and the success criteria are set, staff provide scaffolded support for students as they progress through guided practice towards writing independently. Scaffolds can be highly structured, giving sentence starters or indication of content for every separate section. Alternatively, they could be less structured guidelines. Teachers can make generic writing frames for styles of writing, for example: essays or reports.

To support students’ vocabulary development, we have introduced weekly spelling quizzes. Starting with Year 7, students revise weekly spelling lists which consist of previously taught tier 2 and 3 vocabulary. Students practice spellings using cooperative learning structures and rewards are presented for class performance. To address spelling mistakes, analysis of student responses is then fed back to subject areas to inform subsequent planning and retrieval practice.


  1. Promoting Oracy

Our core cooperative learning structures (Rally Robin, Round Robin, Timed Pair Share and Rally Coach) are perfect for providing students with opportunities for structured talk. Students can rehearse the use of new vocabulary in a formative, low-stakes context before incorporating it into their writing.


Professional Development and Literacy

We offer a range of CPD opportunities to equip staff with the best pedagogical knowledge with to create the optimal conditions for teaching and learning. Throughout this year we will use our school CPD programme (which includes weekly teaching and learning briefings, a monthly breakfast club and six twilights) to explore quality research and best practice in the fields of literacy and classroom practice. Staff will engage with research from organisations such as the Education Endowment Fund, The Sutton Trust, The National Literacy Trust. Colleagues will then have time to reflect and explore the potential applications of this research in their subject areas with the support of their Departmental Improvement Partner and a nominated Coach.

Our in school CPD offer is complemented by the WeST Core Offer which gives our staff access to expert literacy CPD which supports the trust-wide objective of ‘all students reading at -or above- an age appropriate level’.


How Do We Know We Are Making a Difference?

The moral purpose of equipping students with the literacy skills necessary to live safe, fulfilled and successful lives is at the heart of everything we do.

To achieve this aim we begin by examining robust evidence-based approaches and strategies which have been successfully trialled and implemented in contexts relevant to our school. The strategies identified in this document were created, refined, evaluated and then peer reviewed over a sustained period before we chose to introduce them at Hele’s.

However, strategies are only as effective as their delivery allows. Consequently, we have invested time into upskilling colleague over a sustained period. All staff been able to explore the underpinning research, see the strategies being modelled effectively, reflect and then plan their application in the context of a specific subject.

As the year progresses, we will use specific assessment milestones (using the assessments mentioned earlier in the document) to objectively measure the impact of our literacy strategy at school, trust and nationwide level.