Research School Network: Keeping hold of the golden threads – reflections on the updated EEF Key Stage 2 Literacy Guidance Report Rachael Wilson, Deputy Director, Norwich Research School

Keeping hold of the golden threads – reflections on the updated EEF Key Stage 2 Literacy Guidance Report

Rachael Wilson, Deputy Director, Norwich Research School

It is a tremendous understatement to say that achieving consistency and excellence in the teaching and learning of literacy is a complex and relentless challenge. Each group of children we cater for has a unique combination of prior experience, vocabulary exposure and understanding of language.

Developing children’s literacy skills means planning and delivering lessons with an acute awareness and sensitivity towards the many interdependent elements from which a child’s fluent understanding of language grows.

Key Stage 2 is a crucial time for literacy and language learning, as children develop more sophisticated vocabulary and language techniques, and access deeper meaning through inference and contextual understanding.

We are now, more than ever before, painfully aware of the moral imperative to teach as effectively as we can, especially as we continue to negotiate a path through an ongoing pandemic, picking through the aftermath of the school closures of the last two years. Literacy levels impact on children’s long term life chances1, both in terms of socio economic factors and, by extension, their physical health, and even modest early estimates indicate that the impact of closures will have significantly widened the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.2 The impact of the pandemic on individual family circumstances has meant that access to books to read, and opportunities to talk, have been widely disparate even between children in similar socioeconomic circumstances.

In 2017, The EEF published their Guidance report, Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2.” This formed part of a suite of guidance reports covering literacy recommendations from EYFS all the way through to secondary school. The recommendations have been reached through careful analysis of international research and through consultation with experts, so as to provide the strongest evidence base possible. This original report was published in 2017, and in November 2021 an updated version was released, with some helpful additional features.

A golden thread

Before we get to what is new in the updated guidance, it is worth highlighting that this advice sits within a series of guidance reports covering a range of developmental stages. However, there are strong themes that run through the entire series of recommendations: golden threads” that accompany children’s literacy development right the way through school. One of these is oracy- speech, language and communication. Another is the explicit teaching of reading and engagement with the written word. Explicit, deliberate modelling is a third, pedagogical thread which accompanies a child the whole way through their school career. Sitting in and amongst all of these is the teaching and learning of vocabulary.

So what’s new?

- The updates to the Guidance report include clear exemplifications to illustrate the concepts being described: for example the Reading House” model which clearly delineates different aspects of reading comprehension whilst also demonstrating their interdependence.

Reading house pic

- There are also additional vignettes which provide helpful questions for discussion and reflection. These could be used alone or incorporated into staff training.

- More space and time has been dedicated to vocabulary development through speech, language and communication and collaborative learning, to reflect the latest research findings, along with examples and suggestions for how to incorporate elements of this into lessons. As always, the emphasis is on building an iterative focus rather than novelty one-off lessons.

- The additional models included in the update also exemplify theories around language acquisition through reading, different types of vocabulary, and exemplifications of the different elements of reading fluency. This technical knowledge is useful for teachers both in terms of understanding and as an aide memoire for coverage.

Fluency pic

- The new format of the report also links back to the EEF Guide to Implementation which is helpful for planning and implementing sustained changes in practice. Used together with the Literacy Guidance, the Schools Guide to Implementation provides a comprehensive package for school improvement in this area of the curriculum.

So what?

In a nutshell, there are some key takeaways from re-reading the updated guidance, even for someone who is familiar with the recommendations from the original report. Mine were as follows:

- to remember to plan for opportunities for speaking and listening- collaborative work and rehearsed performance in particular

- to improve routines around learning and exploring vocabulary

- to remember the links between spelling, transcription and working memory and adjust timings and weightings to make the most of this for individual children

- how you implement something is absolutely crucial to its potential to succeed


1. National Literacy Trust- Literacy and Life Expectancy report 2018
2. EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment- The Impact of closures on the attainment gap

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