Research School Network: GUEST BLOG: Using the EEF’s implementation guidance to create a sustained approach to literacy Tom Goodman is a senior leader at Lipson Community College


GUEST BLOG: Using the EEF’s implementation guidance to create a sustained approach to literacy

Tom Goodman is a senior leader at Lipson Community College

With the welcome rise of well-sequenced, knowledge-rich curriculums, there has never been a stronger argument that literacy is the nearest thing to a golden ticket to help our students access what we have planned for them. However, with a quarter of 15-year-olds still having a reading age of 12 or below (GL Assessment 2020), how can we possibly expect them to have the tools required to achieve? Whilst there is a pressure on outcomes for these students, fundamentally it is also our moral imperative to ensure all students leave school being literate to increase their chances of successful lives (World Literacy Foundation 2015).

The only easy thing to say about this is that it is not easy! For all the right reasons, teachers want their students to improve quickly at lots of things. As a secondary school, we have been guilty of this many times, attempting to implement quick-fix literacy interventions to tackle a massive issue. Inevitably these had little impact and phased out as the new thing came in.

There are countless strategies, programmes and interventions, all set up with the best of intentions, that never quite achieve what they had been set up to do.’

So why did these well-intended, well-researched interventions fall by the wayside? For the same reason that not every person who signs up to the gym in January, with the best intentions for their health or appearance, gets the results they want. The desire for results is very similar in our profession; you’d find it hard to come across a teacher in any subject, at any level of experience who doesn’t see the importance of improving the literacy of their students. There are countless strategies, programmes and interventions, all set up with the best of intentions, that never quite achieve what they had been set up to do. Inevitably something else comes along, a new priority is identified, someone’s absent, or maybe the system behind the strategy has failed.

It is the system you plan and implement that creates the path for sustainable improvement, not the initial goal. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” (James Clear) Moreover, this system should not rely on one person, but a group of people who are leaders of the implementation strategy. A school with a standalone Literacy lead has a system with a single point of failure, dangerous territory for any institution. The true test of sustainable leadership is that your strategy can continue without you there.

At Lipson, Literacy is not a standalone policy or series of disparate interventions.’

Recommendation 2 of the EEF’s implementation guidance report is to Create a leadership environment and school climate that is conducive to good implementation’. More specifically, this means identifying and cultivating leaders of implementation throughout the school and uniting the practice of these leaders through a common aim. At Lipson, Literacy is not a standalone policy or series of disparate interventions. We use a thread’ visual based on Scarborough’s reading rope to show how literacy threads through everything we do:

Clean Shot 2022 04 05 at 16 15 49 2x

Curriculum leaders have a specific focus on vocabulary and ensure it is a common thread in our schemes of work. Literacy is also at the heart of our coaching model – a CPD system that we invest time in every week. Teachers draw on our curriculum and coaching model to ensure that literacy is an integral part of each lesson, no matter what the subject. So, by knitting together different areas of implementation with a common aim, we have a central thread running through the daily practice of every teacher and leader in the school.

Implementation notes for school leaders:

How did we identify and cultivate implementation leaders?

  • We focus on creating a whole school culture where all staff feel valued and empowered, where organisational health (Lencioni) is a priority; staff feel trusted, are transparent with one another and happy to share and learn from one another. 
  • We take middle leaders with us. They are the engine room of the school and the true drivers of change on a day-to-day basis. For too long, the message has been that we are all teachers of literacy, but rarely is this supported by sufficient training. We shifted the paradigm from What can your subject do for literacy?’ to What can literacy do for your subject?’
  • We take a less-is-more approach to key words in our schemes of learning, empowering middle leaders to decide what these words are, providing training on how we might pre-teach, revisit, retrieve and assess core vocabulary.
  • We identify teachers who can become coaches in our incremental coaching system. We felt it was important to train teachers of various experience, rather than just SLT or the most experienced staff. By doing so, we help to create buy-in because teachers are genuinely involved in shaping our strategies.

How did we make the main thing’, the main thing?

We used the vehicle of incremental coaching, ensuring that 4 out of the 8 actionable steps were explicitly linked to literacy (these were strategically selected based on our evaluations of literacy during the explore’ phase of implementation):

  • Say it again better
  • Give them the words
  • Reading routine
  • Chunk, stop, annotate

Once we had identified our coaches, it was crucial that we ensured our coaches were experts on these actionable steps. This was crucial to ensure consistency in the coaching process and consequently the diet of literacy instruction in our classrooms.

How did we make the plan sustainable?

We had a team of 12 coaches driving literacy via their coaching to all teachers, visiting them every 2 weeks. This enabled us to create a system where our coaches were able to systematically improve the teaching of literacy through the incremental coaching programme. Twilight CPD was removed to give staff additional time to participate in the coaching process.

What problems did we face?

After an incredible start, a mixture of staff absence (COVID) and additional pressures meant some coaches were finding it difficult to find the time to coach fortnightly. As a result, the regularity dipped. To combat this we re-assigned some of the coachees, but also encouraged any worried staff to talk to the lead coaches if they were struggling. Again, operational health is crucial for this to occur without fear of retribution.

What has the impact been?

Whilst it is very difficult to measure something like whole school literacy that has so many variables, we are very confident that the short-term outcomes of our implementation plan have been achieved: all teachers are aware of the demands of literacy within their subject and there has been an increase in staff confidence to improve literacy within their subjects, specifically around vocabulary.

Our implementation tips:

  • Be realistic about capacity. There will be an ebb and flow with school improvement – it’s not always pedal to the metal. 
  • To make it work, make the system easy. 
  • Over communicate to staff. 
  • In the case of literacy, we reinforced our approach with a memorable rationale statement (from Sir Kevan Collins’ introduction to the guidance report): every subject needs to be asking not what they can do for literacy, but what literacy can do for them. 
  • In the current climate, it is incredibly difficult to measure outcomes – not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’ (Einstein). We can monitor implementation outcomes – how well we are implementing the strategy – and use these to support and reinforce effective practice.


The EEF’s tiered model for implementation was an excellent visual to use with staff to understand the less is more, keep it simple’ approach: https://educationendowmentfoun…

The EEF’s Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools makes 7 recommendations: https://d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfr…

The Definitive Guide to Instructional Coaching: 7 Factors for Success’ by Jim Knight (2021): https://www.instructionalcoach…Atomic Habits’ by James Clear (2018):…

Read all about it’ GL Assessments (2020):…

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