: Getting the foundations right The journey towards a goal of every child being a writer


Getting the foundations right

The journey towards a goal of every child being a writer

by Alexandra Park Research School
on the

Over a series of blogs, we will detail the journey towards our goal of every child being a writer. In a slightly abstract approach, I am starting with a house which collapsed as a result of having poor foundations.


At this point, you are more than welcome to predict why our children were not the writers we want them to be! As the headteacher of Alexandra Park Research School, I will openly admit that our children do not write at the level I want for them. If 97% of our children can leave our school at the expected level in maths, why are only 85% of them leaving at the expected level in writing? And more importantly, what can we do to help these children become better writers?

There is an argument that during Covid our home learning prioritised reading, maths and PSHE. However, it is often our most vulnerable children who are not working at age related expectations in writing, and they were in school being taught in small groups during much of Covid. A further point to consider is the difference between maths and an English lesson I observed last week. In maths, the children were learning to divide by 100. This is quite a discrete skill which requires a strong understanding of place value but the learning is very similar and connects, builds on and reinforces the previous sequence of lessons on multiplying by 10, 100 and dividing by 10. If I then compare this to the English lesson, where the children were expected to write a character description of Fagin, from Oliver Twist, the breadth of knowledge and learning required is clearly much more demanding. All that said, this creates a challenge not an excuse and if children have the cognitive capability of achieving in maths, then we should have the same high expectation of them as writers.

While considering this challenge, we began to explore and revisit a range of EEF guidance reports, including: Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning, Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2; Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning; Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools, and Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants.

The first action came from the planning section of the writing process model:

Writing process

We need to ensure that every child has the knowledge, ideas and information required to write the content. Here, we moved away from thinking of planning as something you do on a piece of paper and focused more on oracy and ensuring every child had the ideas and information in their heads. Referring back to the example of Fagin, the children worked with our drama teacher on performing parts of the play. They read, and importantly, discussed an abridged version of Oliver Twist and shared other classics in their book talk sessions. They also role-played characters and scenes. Alongside this, the teacher modelled how to write a character description for Oliver. All of this combined provided them with the knowledge, ideas and skills to write a character description for Fagin.

The second area we focused on were the recommendations in the Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning guidance report. One thing I always find reassuring, and that supports me as a learner, is the overlap in research between the guidance reports. The first key principle in the feedback guidance is to lay the foundations for effective feedback’ One aspect of this is high quality instruction, which reinforced focusing on teaching. This also supported the way we chose how to plan and gather the necessary information to write about a character, and the lesson which clearly modelled how to write a character description. The use of a visualiser and teachers using their own writing book, similar to what a lot of schools do with teacher sketch books, had a significant impact on the quality of the delivery of both writing structures. This modelling specifically focused on the writing process, both transcription and composition, as well as metacognition and how as teachers and writers we plan, monitor and evaluate whilst we are writing.

Referring back to the contrast in teaching a maths lesson with a very discrete learning object, to teaching an english lesson where every child may have an individual area of development, we prioritised focusing on feedback to support children at an individual level. However, without understanding the impact of high quality instruction there would have been a real danger that we would have been providing feedback to overcome barriers which should have been addressed earlier through high quality instruction, and understood through effective formative assessment. This would have only increased the amount of feedback required and possibly had a negative impact as it would have limited the positive feedback children could receive, increased marking time, and subsequently reduced planning time and impacted on teacher wellbeing. One of the questions we ask of ourselves when reflecting on our own teaching is are we providing the highest level of input resulting in the targeted feedback to ensure children are using their own metacognition, thinking for themselves and succeeding? If we are providing the same feedback to multiple children, then this should have been addressed in the teacher input and checked through formative assessment strategies.

Therefore, the first stage of ensuring our house does not fall down is, like many aspects of learning, is focusing on high quality instruction to ensure children are ready to write. Once this is embedded in our practice, we can then maximise the impact of feedback by targeting children’s individual needs. We will continue to work on getting these foundations right.

Phil Brooke, Headteacher Alexandra Park Primary School

More from the Alexandra Park Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more