Here, we catch up with David Didau, a teaching expert, author and Senior Lead Practitioner for English at Ormiston Academies Trust. Averaged across the Trust network now using Lexonik, an incredible reading age gain of 35 months has been achieved.
Tell us a little about you:
I started teaching in 1999 and have worked at a number of different schools in a range of roles, from Head of English to Assistant Principal. I’ve written seven books on education, including The Secret of Literacy and Making Meaning in English.
Over the past 10 years I’ve worked across hundreds of schools, providing training and support, often with a particular focus on literacy.
You’ve been working with Ormiston Academies Trust since 2021. Can you expand a little more on your role there, and on the Trust’s reach?
I’m very fortunate to have the role of Senior Lead Practitioner for English, at OAT. The Trust covers 43 schools in all, so there’s a huge breadth of talent and opportunity across the whole network.
I thoroughly enjoy working with such a gifted team of lead practitioners, and I’m proud that we’re able to make a difference to the 30,000+ students we serve.
Can you tell us a little about how you learned about Lexonik, and what encouraged you to consider the intervention?
We were clearly aware of several interventions on the market, but the turning point in us adopting it, was discovering that Ormiston SWB Academy had it in place.
SWB is based in the West Midlands and serves 11- to 18-year-olds.
Their SENCO was able to talk me through how the academy had already been using Lexonik, and there was a great deal to get excited about.
What made it stand out for you as a good option? Had you compared it with others?
Certainly other academies in the Trust had tried different solutions, or looked into them.
For me, many of the alternatives felt more like a ‘curriculum’ rather than an intervention.
There’s a big difference. We wanted something rather more immediate and responsive – and I personally felt that that’s what I was seeing was possible with Lexonik Advance.
Do you think that’s a problem for teachers and educational leaders trying to make decisions about product offerings – that there’s often a lot of hype and promise, but that the results aren’t as swift as is needed?
We had some discussions internally about how Lexonik Advance had this guarantee of a certain amount of progress in six weeks.
That’s the kind of outcome you want to be able to witness, but you’re also mindful that, as a teacher, you’re forever being told about different solutions and programmes which promise a lot.
It’s quite easy to become ‘naively impressed’ by the promises of a product.
So, for you, the fact that SWB was seeing strong early results, was an indication that this should be adopted more widely within the Trust?
Yes. It was proving itself to be an effective intervention in a short period of time.
From a Trust-wide vantage, it really felt like it was the right approach.
Was your desire to introduce it, anything to do with Covid and the so-called ‘catch-up’?
It wasn’t at all.
Many of our schools are disadvantaged and in areas of deprivation, and even before my appointment to the Trust, schools in our network had invested in GL Assessment and had a clear understanding of standard age scores within their various groups of students.
I spent a lot of time looking at this data, and that helped me draw my own conclusions about the kind of intervention we needed.
You see it as a ‘long term solution’, far more than a ‘let’s catch up from what Covid caused’?
Indeed. It’s about aligning yourself with the right programmes which help your schools to move forward and make good measurable progress, in whatever circumstances.
Clearly you had decided Lexonik was the right approach, but did that mean you had the opportunity to insist the programme was rolled out across each and every school in the network?
No. The distinct thing about Ormiston is that the Academies have an incredible amount of autonomy.
We advise, but don’t compel.
I can recommend that I think Lexonik is the right way, but evidence is really important to those leaders, because they’ll draw their own conclusions and commission the intervention which feels right for them.
And of course, each of those schools are very different in nature and geography, so they may have differing needs or expectations as a result?
Absolutely. We have 32 secondaries, five special schools and a handful of primaries.
We have schools from Grimsby to the Isle of Wight. Between a third of the schools are in the East of England, a third in the Midlands with other cluster in Runcorn, Stoke and a few in the south of England.
They are all very individual in terms of who they serve and what their immediate needs are.
What did you insist upon, in terms of signing schools on to the programme, and ensuring that the approach was sufficiently tailored – given what you say about different geographies and needs?
One of the biggest things for me, was negotiating that my English practitioners were trained in the programme.
That isn’t the case with some schools.
The majority, in fact, seemed to sign their ‘non teachers’ up to Lexonik, which I just didn’t feel was right for us.
What was your thinking behind that approach? Was it about getting ‘buy in’ from your English teaching staff?
It needed to feel relevant to the right people, and bring the right impact which would be shown across the school community.
I was proven correct in that strategy – it certainly has had strong impact.
In fact, our trained teachers have become evangelical about Lexonik and, as a result, the subsequent benefit is that they have been in a position to knowledgably explain it to SLT members.
Are you suggesting that the success of the intervention lies in part with who is trained on to the programme, and that perhaps some schools deliberately won’t be using the most appropriate resource for deploying the Lexonik technique?
I realise this is my personal view, but I think perhaps because it’s a ‘small group intervention’, it doesn’t naturally invite schools to put the best teachers on the product in all cases.
So now that you’ve seen the impact of Lexonik, are you leaning toward being more insistent that all schools adopt it within the Trust?
I don’t insist people have Lexonik, but I ask that if they don’t, they have to have a credible alternative.
If they want something else, I want the cost and benefits for it.
You refer to costs. Do you think that’s one of the tricky factors for schools to consider – particularly right now?
Rightly or wrongly, the big block in the decision process is undoubtedly cost.
Schools would love to get more teachers trained, but the bottleneck is the cost, especially in these straightened times.
And yet, clearly schools are realising that interventions are necessary?
Very much so.
There is an increasing sense in schools that they need to apply an urgent intervention to improve reading.
Having said that, the bottom line for schools is they are held to account on their headline figures.
You can make the argument that they improve their GCSE results if they improve their reading, but the causal arrow isn’t so obvious.
Sometimes that can complicate the decision making.
There are competing ‘targets’.
For you, it seems the decision is more clear cut. Yes interventions have a cost, but if they rapidly and tangibly produce results which aid a child’s progress – then it’s the right financial and resource commitment?
Yes. It feels ethically the right thing to do, in my opinion.
With schools, whatever leaders are doing, they are doing it for what they think is in the best interests of the children.
We have to ask ourselves all the time, “how do we move from doing things which are ‘quite good’ to ‘very good’?”.
I regard the Lexonik intervention as ‘very good’, and therefore, I’m always going to want to help others in the profession see how the right programme could produce different outcomes for their students too.
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