Our latest case study features a conversation with Alice Bishop and Sarah Groombridge, of The John Frost School in Newport, Wales.
Here, they share the outstanding reading age gains and the growing in confidence of pupils across their busy and diverse secondary comprehensive.
Tell us about your school:
We are an 11-18 mixed comprehensive school in Newport, South Wales.
We have over 1,400 pupils on roll. Our school is a caring community that promotes tolerance and respect.
Over 40% of our pupils are from a minority-ethnic or mixed-race background and a third come from homes where English is not the main language. We are mindful of this when it comes to literacy provision and intervention at our school.
Are there other diversity issues which impact the school, and which become significant in terms of how you provide additional resource within the school?
As well as the large number of EAL pupils, we are keenly aware that around 26% of our pupils are eligible for free school meals, which is significantly higher than the Wales average of 16.4% for secondary schools. As well as this, just over half of our pupils live in the 20% most deprived areas in Wales.
At John Frost, we embrace a vibrant mix of backgrounds and experiences. We are fortunate to have pupils joining us from diverse communities and from areas that face challenges.
Our goal is for all of our pupils to be successful, regardless of background. We aim to create a level playing field for our pupils, and one way we do this is by ensuring all free school meal pupils receive literacy intervention at Key Stage 3.
What made you explore the idea of a programme to support and enhance literacy and reading levels?
When our headteacher took over six years ago, the school lacked a reading culture and our library was very much outdated and needed a complete overhaul. From a literacy perspective, one of our first goals was to nurture a love of reading.
It was also necessary to improve literacy outcomes at Key Stage 4. We knew that encouraging our students to read more was a good place to start, but many of our pupils also struggled with verbal reasoning.
How did you hear about Lexonik in the first instance?
It may sound rather simple, but it was just a case of doing an online search to see what might be out there. We read about lots of different programmes and initiatives, but Lexonik piqued our interest the most.
We liked the sound of what we read, and then we discovered a school in our area that was already using it.
To be certain we would be committing to the right programme, we arranged to go along and see a session in action.
What a great way of getting first-hand experience of how it was being used in the classroom. What did you discover?
It was obvious that that particular school loved it.
Their pupils were clearly very engaged and making good progress, but teachers really valued it too, and commented that they felt more confident in their teaching.
We loved that it was delivered at pace, and that sessions were energetic and upbeat.
It was based on game-like tasks and lots of interaction.
We knew it would work well for us.
How easy was it to implement, once you had made the decision?
Not particularly difficult.
We realised there would be some logistical issues about creating the intervention in the timetable, and to some degree, that caused a little initial resistance among some subject teachers.
Having said that, the feeling about the programme quickly changed when teachers could see how children were coming on in leaps and bounds, and that in lessons like History, for example, pupils were showing much greater comprehension of words and significantly improved verbal reasoning.
You opted to have two strands to your literacy support in school, meaning Lexonik alongside another product.
How has that worked for you?
We had chosen to use Accelerated Reader with Years 7 to 10.
For us, the combination works incredibly well, and it’s contributed to us having what we refer to as a ‘whole-school’ focus on literacy.
Reading and literacy is a huge key feature of our curriculum, and we have 10 minutes of reading at the start of almost every lesson now.
Results show that with the two running together, we’re also closing the free schools meal gap in terms of national reading test scores.
That’s impressive. How else is it embedded in your school?
We have two literacy intervention rooms within the school, and we actively run a ‘Word of the Week’ using the Lexonik materials.
Given the current climate around schools under financial pressures, what would you say to a school leadership team which feels like it ought to do an intervention of this nature, but is worried about cost?
I understand the concerns of school leadership teams who may be mindful of the financial implications associated with these programmes. Making such decisions requires careful consideration, especially when operating under tight budgets and potential staff reductions.
However, it is important to acknowledge that lacking a strong foundation in literacy can hinder pupils' overall success. Those who have not effectively addressed their literacy challenges may face difficulties achieving at GCSE and A Level, and may encounter struggles in various aspects of life.
You also believe the outcomes benefit school credibility too, is that correct?
Yes. The results seen because of having a strong literacy intervention programme, including Lexonik, have increased the credibility of the school.
In fact, we currently have a waiting list, which is a testament to our school's growing popularity. Our remarkable success in literacy has become a draw for prospective parents who seek an educational environment that prioritises the development of these crucial skills.
Is it correct that you’re keen to take the impact into the community more – particularly to parents and carers?
Indeed. Before Covid, we introduced a programme called Family Literacy, using Lexonik as part of this.
We wanted to support families to support their children.
We felt that if we could upskill parents and carers, they would be better able to celebrate the success of their children, while seeing their own competence grow.
It worked well, but was paused as a result of Covid.
It is definitely something we plan to revisit.
Do you have any summary tips or advice for leaders looking to implement Lexonik?
When selecting staff for training, it is important to make thoughtful choices, focusing on individuals who possess the drive, enthusiasm, and proactive approach necessary for success. Additionally, ensure that the literacy intervention tutors receive thorough training, and that you have a feasible plan in place for implementing the programme within your existing timetable.
Overall, investing in staff professional development in this area can have tremendous benefits. It not only enhances their skills but also serves as an equaliser, positively impacting students of all backgrounds and abilities.
We highly recommend it and are keen to get another cohort of teachers trained.