“Nothing matters more than words.” 

Geoff Barton (General Secretary, ASCL)

Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, there were concerns about literacy & vocabulary barriers to the curriculum, with a quarter of students at 15 still having a reading age of 12 or below and a correlation between student reading ability and GCSE performance which is just as strong in maths and sciences as it is in arts subjects.

As educators, we understand the significance and huge importance of developing vocabulary – both in our classrooms and the wider school community. The complexities of a bigger, more knowledge-rich curriculum at all phases means that now, more than ever, we must find ways to enrich the vocabularies of all our children – but especially the disadvantaged – if we are to raise their attainment and aspirations.  Every teacher and school leader is aware of the impact school closures are having on pupils’ progress, and this has been felt acutely in terms of reading progress.  92% of teachers think school closures and remote learning will widen the word gap. As we attempt to ‘build, back better’ it is imperative that we share what we know, drawing on the research and effective practice already embedded in so many of our great schools.  

Reading is the cornerstone of building equity in our schools. The more opportunities we create for accessing words, and a broad variety of text, then the more chances we offer our pupils to acquire a rich and deep vocabulary. We all recognise the significant gap between our ‘word poor’ and ‘word rich’ pupils so it is imperative that we provide access to words and offer them genuine experiences to engage with stories, facts, and fiction. Without sufficient vocabulary – a word gap – a child is seriously limited in their enjoyment of school and success beyond.

“By closing the vocabulary gaps for children in our classrooms with their peers, we can offer them the vital academic tools for school success, alongside the capability to communicate with confidence in the world beyond the school gates.”  

Alex Quigley (Huntingdon Research School) 

We have a plethora of expertise within our schools already. We understand how we develop spoken language and how we build academic and disciplinary vocabulary.  Some argue that our education system is broken. But we do already possess the tools and ideas that will make the difference. Working together we can find the cracks – for “that’s how the light gets in” as Ernest Hemingway put it – and fix them, drawing on our collective efficacy in delivering programmes that have an impact in our schools on the lives of children and young people. 

If language and literacy are the building blocks for more than academic success, but a footprint for future life success, fulfilling lives and rewarding careers, then the key questions that school leaders now need to ask themselves are these;

  • Do you have a balanced whole school approach to developing literacy, language and reading?
  • Is there buy in and commitment from all the staff and do they understand their responsibilities within their faculties?
  • How skilled are your teachers in the teaching of reading and how are you developing their practice?


Find out more about our Literacy INSET:

Engaging Boys with Reading in Primary School

Raising achievement in Primary Literacy and Reading

Improving Reading in Secondary Schools

Improving Literacy through Metacognition

“the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go.” 

Dr Seuss
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