Reading lays foundation for success in UK school

At Sir William Burrough Primary School in East London, there are conscious efforts to make each day bright for students in Years 1–6 (equivalent to US grades K–5). Students in Year 2 wear a different primary-hued sweater daily so every morning offers a colorful start. All students end their days on a cheery note, singing in the auditorium together. And each morning and afternoon, everyone gets lost in the joy of reading a book for 30 minutes.

The decision to dedicate a full hour to daily reading stems from a strong belief in literacy as a foundation to success, combined with the fact that most Sir William Burrough students don’t have the opportunity to read in a quiet, focused environment at home. The school is located in one of East London’s most socioeconomically deprived areas, and these students would be without the luxury of their treasured home libraries if it weren’t for the books they proudly earn as rewards for achieving their Renaissance Accelerated Reader® goals. Some have collected more than 100 books.

“All students who achieve success in Accelerated Reader are personally congratulated by the senior leadership team and receive a book signed and dated by Headteacher Avril Newman,” said Deputy Headteacher Anthony Wilson. “Reading is not about school; it’s about life, which is why we celebrate the concept of reading at every opportunity.”

School prevails despite demographic hurdles

Wilson and Headteacher Avril Newman say the value of this reading focus is proven in the school’s success. Sir William Burrough consistently produces English and math exam results that equal or exceed national trends—even though more than 75 percent of students have home languages other than English and around 20 percent are in the early stages of learning English at this very ethnically diverse school. Results from England’s 2013 accountability assessments (Statutory Assessment Tests or SATs) show that the school is in the top 10 percent of schools nationally for overall attainment, top 10 percent for demonstrating faster-than-expected growth, and top 10 percent for demonstrating faster-than-expected growth in its disadvantaged students.

“The increased levels of literacy and noticeable improvement in writing standards as a result of using Accelerated Reader are a wonder to behold,” Wilson said. “AR works incredibly well at motivating reluctant readers, particularly boys, largely because of the instant feedback on quiz results. This channels competitive spirit in the right way to make children literate, whilst instilling a love of reading.”

Building on reading and evolving with the programs

Sir William Burrough implemented Accelerated Reader and Renaissance Star Reading® in 1999 to monitor student progress and provide personalized practice to raise and sustain literacy levels. Newman, present from the beginning, has witnessed the positive effects of program and technological advances over the years. It’s easier than ever to get the latest book releases and quizzes so children can read what they’re most excited about, and the program “nearly runs itself” with the addition of iPads for student testing.

Reading, says Headteacher Avril Newman, is part of the school’s “You Can Do It” ethos, which centers on persistence, organization, confidence, and getting along. Student persistence comes from reading ever-more-challenging texts and widening their experience with the written word, and confidence comes from their AR achievements and progress. “To be able to read fluently and well is the most freeing thing we can offer any of the children,” Newman said.

To be able to read fluently and well is the most freeing thing we can offer any of the children.

Headteacher Avril Newman | Sir William Burrough Primary School

In recent years, Newman and her team especially value the addition of Core Progress learning progressions in Star Reading, which direct teachers’ lessons more effectively. “Core Progress breaks down the progress of learning reading comprehension into smaller-scale, focused tasks,” said Helen Green, Years 5 and 6 teacher. “This allows us to help children focus on developing and perfecting one particular skill, rather than merely touching on several skills and not allowing a full understanding to develop.”

The ability to drill down to an individual skill and identify an exact area of student struggle is also what Sir William Burrough appreciates about Renaissance Accelerated Maths (as the product is known in the UK), implemented in 2011. Newman said the program’s high degree of differentiation was initially more challenging to manage. Wilson responded by designing two separate strands—a class-based strand that all children would do at the expected level of the class, and an individualized learning program strand which supported the less able and pushed the more able.

As a result, Wilson noted, “We knew more about every child within three weeks of using Accelerated Maths and Renaissance Star Maths than we ever did before.

In 2013, after two years of working with Accelerated Maths, 98 percent of students attained Level 4, including 100 percent of all EAL (English as an additional language) children. One hundred percent of children achieved two or more levels of progress, which is considered “value-added” or above the average expected rate of growth; more than 50 percent achieved Level 5, and more than 10 percent achieved Level 6—levels which are considered rare because they often demonstrate an understanding two or three years beyond chronological age.

Reliable data sets the stage for ownership

Star Reading and Star Maths assessments, conducted after each break in the middle of Sir William Burrough’s three terms, provide the main, cross-school data that school leaders monitor. Simply put, they’re looking to see that scaled scores have gone up, and providing necessary support if the scores are down. Star data helps support school requirements by Ofsted, the UK school quality inspection agency, to monitor progress not just of individuals, but of groups of socioeconomic disadvantage, ethnicity, gender, and more.

While children’s overall progress is accountable through Star Reading and Star Maths, teachers take ownership of class data and make decisions for students. Headteacher Avril Newman says a key to success at Sir William Burrough is to put the right teachers in the classroom, keep the paperwork burden to a minimum, and then get out of the way.

“If you over-monitor and demand a certain standard, you will get precisely that standard and nothing more,” Newman said. “If you trust, and simply ask that, say, a Year 4 teacher’s job is to convert Year 3s into Year 5s, the sky is the limit and people will give you far more than if you simply give them a checklist of ‘things that you must do.’”

“Not surprisingly, everyone—adults and children—seems to thrive in our culture of high expectations and unconditional hope for their success,” Newman said.

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