Research School Network: Year 3 Writing Project at St John the Baptist Catholic Multi-Academy Trust Ben Serruys, Deputy Director of the Julian Teaching School Hub

Year 3 Writing Project at St John the Baptist Catholic Multi-Academy Trust

Ben Serruys, Deputy Director of the Julian Teaching School Hub

In September, I embarked on an inspiring journey to lead a writing initiative for Year 3 students across our Trust. Our goal was to bridge the gap between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 expectations, boosting outcomes for this cohort, given their lower Key Stage 1 data compared to other year groups.

Navigating a multi-school project aimed at enhancing writing education, we understood the need for flexibility — allowing each school to tailor the approach to its unique needs.


The first step was to assemble a team of experienced English subject leaders, experts, and colleagues familiar with assessing writing in both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. This team shaped the project and provided ongoing support. We also collaborated with VNET early on, whose knowledge and expertise offered helpful insights as the project began to take shape.

Importantly, we also benefit from having a Trust Executive Team who continue to support and advocate for the initiative. This helps to generate and maintain buy-in and strong communication.


The next step was to generate and distribute a self-evaluation tool to support schools to carefully consider what the teaching and learning of writing looks like in their setting and to identify tight areas for improvement. Schools completed this assessment in summer 2023 to guide our project’s development.

Initial school visits

During Autumn 2023, I visited each school to understand their context better and review their self-evaluations. This helped school leaders prioritise areas for improvement and plan next steps. We identified several key focus areas, such as:

  • Subject knowledge regarding pupils’ progression through specific writing skills
  • Ensuring medium-term plans include each phase of writing (see the EEF’s Improving Literacy in KS2)
  • Modelling & shared writing
  • Implementing a robust spelling & handwriting curriculum
  • Updating and providing further depth to long-term writing curriculum planning to ensure coverage of skills, genres, purposes and audiences, as well as planned opportunities to re-visit and build on these.

Anecdotally, these areas are very much in line with the focuses of other schools that I hear from, as well as issues highlighted in Ofsted’s recent report on English subject education.

Implementation plans

Informed by the EEF’s guidance on implementation, we provided schools with an implementation plan template to prepare for and customize their own plans. This included a menu’ of options, but leaders were encouraged to modify them according to their needs. Once these were drafted, I offered feedback and suggested amendments as needed.

Where are we now?

What has been especially useful over the course of this project has been finding the most appropriate balance between inter-school collaboration and school-specific work. Multi-Academy Trusts like ours enable effective sharing of expertise and resources among schools, helping to build effective and trusting professional relationships between schools, who readily share ideas and resources.

However, it has also become apparent that even where 2 schools have very similar areas of focus, the approaches they take will necessarily look quite different. For example, when redeveloping long-term plans, each school might address skills and genres in a unique sequence, often with the use of different core texts. This means that, to some extent, even where collaboration is possible, there remains a degree of duplication.

Successes so far:

  • Buy-in: from the very start, all schools have readily acknowledged the importance of a focus on writing and staff have engaged well with this;
  • Effective Leadership: School leaders accurately identified areas needing improvement and demonstrated strong subject leadership in a range of areas, including subject knowledge, target-setting, curriculum planning, monitoring, support and CPD delivery (clearly encapsulating the EEF’s mechanisms of PD);
  • Diversification into other year groups: Many changes implemented by schools are proving helpful across different year groups, not just Year 3.

Challenges so far:

  • Capacity: in primary schools, particularly smaller ones, school leaders tend to hold multiple roles which places great demands on individuals to spread their time thinly on each of their focuses. Consequently, when presented with unforeseen issues (for example, extended staff absence), it applies additional stress to implementation tasks and timelines
  • Diversification into other year groups: this is both a strength and a challenge as any diversification from the tight area of improvement risks diluting the impact on the tight focus.

Next steps:

Currently, schools are reaching their first review points, evaluating the project’s impact and considering where adaptations may be required or where further support might be appropriate.

This project exemplifies our commitment to empowering young writers and strengthening educational collaboration across our Trust.

More from the Norfolk 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