Project raises literacy attainment in Renfrewshire

Professor Sue Ellis (third left, back row) attends the launch of the Report on the Renfrewshire Literacy Approach. Photo Renfrewshire Council.

Literacy attainment among Renfrewshire primary school pupils has risen significantly through a partnership between teachers and University of Strathclyde researchers.

The project led to increased standardised-age test attainment scores at every stage from P3 to P7. The rise occurred in boys and girls alike and in children from both high-poverty and more advantaged backgrounds.  There is also evidence that the gap between children from high-poverty homes and their more advantaged peers has narrowed.

The key aim of the approach is to improve standards in reading across Renfrewshire and to instil a life-long love of reading in children from an early age. This can increase children and young people’s chances of wider success across education and beyond.

A report on the project’s outcomes was issued on Friday 19 January. Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney attended the launch.

Mr Swinney said: “The Literacy Report launched today shows good progress in raising attainment in literacy and closing the poverty related attainment gap.

“Supported by funding through the Scottish Attainment Challenge, this collaborative work undertaken by Renfrewshire Council and the University of Strathclyde to improve literacy outcomes for pupils and to close the attainment gap is showing promising results and we look forward to further progress as the programme develops.”

Professor Sue Ellis, of Strathclyde’s School of Education, led the project at the University. She said: “Whether children are rich or poor, they must be able to read to access the rest of the curriculum.  This project has made a real difference to the children of Renfrewshire.

“The data clearly show a fall in the number of children with below average and very below average scores, and an increase in those scoring above average and very high scores.

“Senior council officers at Renfrewshire provided high-profile leadership and they took a real interest in the changes taking place.”

Lesley-Anne Dick, Head Teacher of Our Lady of Peace said the school had ‘fully embraced’ the approach.

Motivation

“The motivation and enthusiasm of our two Literacy Champions has empowered others to try out the new ideas,” she said. “Staff have worked extremely hard to completely change their practice and have said they enjoy teaching reading in this way. 

“The children themselves have said they enjoy having the opportunity to read or be read to every day. Several who were reluctant, are now reading and are now exposed to a wider variety of ‘real books’ rather than being limited to a school reading scheme.

“It is lovely to see them talking to each another about books, discussing their likes, dislikes and recommending authors.”

The project focused on developing professional knowledge, changing the ways in which reading is taught and strengthening children’s social networks around reading.  It created a common vision of what the reading curriculum should deliver, but each school developed its own priorities to ensure changes were targeted, cost-effective and sustainable.

Since the project’s completion, Renfrewshire schools and teachers have won a number of awards and accolades for literacy and literacy teaching, including:

•           Education Scotland National Literacy School of the Year - Todholm Primary

•           UK Literacy Association Our Class Loves this Book John Downing Award – Audrey Simpson, teacher, Newmains Primary, Renfrew

•           First Minister’s Reading Challenge Pupil Reading the Most Books Award - Thomas Macfadyen, Lochwinnoch Primary.

The project arose from Renfrewshire Council’s Poverty Commission, which included as members Professor Ellis and Sir Harry Burns, Professor of Global Public Health at Strathclyde, and which identified education as a priority for intervention.