Re-designing a whole school reading curriculum

Start with ‘Why’

Reading had been on our school development plan for many years but like many schools’ other things become a priority and so reading kept on getting pushed further down the list. Our end of KS2 results have been above national averages for many years and children were ‘reading’ so change didn’t seem a priority.

At the start of 2019, after attending a session at our local Research School on ‘Whole school Implementation‘, I started thinking more about ‘Reading’ and what our vision was and had discussions with our Headteacher around this. As a large school in Blackpool we face many barriers such as the most deprived seaside town in the UK, but we do not put a lid on our children’s abilities to learning. At this time, The Literacy Trust conducted some research in Blackpool and identified that:

  • In 2019 only 71% of pupils reached the expected level in communication and language at age five compared with a national average of 82%.
  • As many as 32% of underprivileged children in Blackpool left primary school unable to read well.

We knew that the children in our school start significantly below where they should be in terms of speaking and listening and language development and as a result it was time to focus on what our vision for reading was.

Exploring stage

It was ok saying that reading was on our SDP but what was it that we wanted to change about reading? We knew ‘why’ we had to have it as a focus but had to have a clear whole school picture. The process below from the EEF’s guidance report on Implementation is a great starting point for any school looking at implementing change and the process for this.

At the time I was teaching in Year 4 and identified that whilst we were using texts in literacy, we were not giving the children opportunities where we would just read a book without keep stopping and analysing every aspect of it. Teachers were reading to children, but this was not consistent across year groups and books were seldom finished. In addition, time in literacy lessons was often spent analysing the text with few writing skills being taught, this was becoming increasingly evident when looking at work in pupils’ books and when talking to children about links in the curriculum.

A staff survey was carried out asking questions such as how often teachers read to their class, types of texts chosen etc. Surveys with children also asked if they enjoyed reading, types of texts they enjoyed and if they read at home. There are some great resources on the Open University for surveys and whole school development.

Along with time in class and discussions with teachers it was clear that we did not have a consistent whole school approach to reading and that much time in Year 6 was spent teaching comprehension questions and how to prepare for a test. Some year groups were planning reading carousel activities, when you think about reducing teacher workload this was adding to it planning so many differentiated activities! Time in lessons identified that often teachers would be giving holding activities to some groups of children and differentiating the work so there was little challenge with some children on holding task completion exercises. In addition, different year groups were asking different types of comprehension questions some using VIPERS, some using other types downloaded off the internet. At the end of KS2 all children will be asked the same type of questions in their test and so we felt it was important that in KS2 and KS1 teachers use the same VIPER questions but the adaptation is through the text used.

It was clear we were lacking consistency, clarity, challenge and a clear vision all of which staff had identified in the surveys they were desperate for.

National Curriculum

In the National Curriculum, the programmes of study for reading at key stages 1 and 2 consist of two dimensions:
• Word reading
• Comprehension (both listening and reading)

Skilled word reading involves both the speedy working out of the pronunciation of unfamiliar printed words (decoding) and the speedy recognition of familiar printed words. Underpinning both is the understanding that the letters on the page represent the sounds in spoken words. This is why phonics should be emphasised in the early teaching of reading to beginners (i.e. unskilled readers) when they start school.

Good comprehension draws from linguistic knowledge (in particular of vocabulary and grammar) and on knowledge of the world. Comprehension skills develop through pupils’ experience of high-quality discussion with the teacher, as well as from reading and discussing a range of stories, poems and non-fiction. All pupils must be encouraged to read widely across both fiction and non-fiction to develop their knowledge of themselves
and the world in which they live, to establish an appreciation and love of reading, and to gain knowledge across the curriculum. Reading widely and often increases pupils’ vocabulary because they encounter words they would rarely hear or use in everyday speech. Reading also feeds pupils’ imagination and opens up a treasure-house of wonder
and joy for curious young minds.

What the research says

I started off by reading the EEF guidance reports on literacy in EYFS, KS1 and KS2 which reiterated the NC to ‘Develop pupils’ language capability
to support their reading and writing’ and also to ‘Support pupils to develop
fluent reading capabilities’ and ‘Teach reading comprehension strategies
through modelling and supported practice’.

Doug Lemov’s book ‘Reading Reconsidered‘ was a fantastic read along with, Alex Quigley ‘Closing the Reading Gap‘ and Jane Considine ‘Hooked on books‘ and various research papers. At the start of lockdown I was fortunate to join one of Ashley Booths Zoom sessions on whole school reading – what a light bulb moment that was, thank you so much Ashley, you don’t realise the impact that session had! Everything Ashley said summed up the findings from our ‘exploring’ stage and as a result I was able to go away and start re-designing our reading curriculum.

Preparing Stage

Our Vision was to prepare our pupils for university and college where they will be reading mostly non-fiction articles and so as a school we had to work backwards from that and identify what we need to teach our pupils and the skills we need to equip them with in order to do so. As a result of that our vision was clear thanks to Dr Seuss!

Reading had to have time dedicated to it in the timetable where the teacher reading every day would be a non-negotiable. In addition, reading lessons would be separate to literacy lessons with word reading and comprehension being taught in those lessons and writing skills being taught in literacy. Every day, each teacher would read to their class for 15 minutes without any interruptions – just the teacher reading and modelling ‘how’ to read.

But – what texts would they read? This goes back to the vision – if we wanted to challenge our children and for them to know more, then surely as teachers we’d read classical texts? We set about designing a whole school reading spine but discovered that most texts had been written by white British authors which would not prepare our children to be global citizens or empower them to equity. Doug Lemov refers to ‘five plagues of reading‘ that children should have access to in order to successfully navigate reading with confidence. These are complex beyond a lexical level and demand more from the reader than other types of books. We adapted these to ‘four’ for our school context and needs, which enabled us to include a wider range of diversity and text types. As wide readers we were able to identify many books to include and also referred to Scott EvansReads website.’ along with his monthly Primary Book Club – thank you Scott.

Monday – Friday reading class novel

Following on from Ashley’s zoom session, we adopted the idea that teachers would choose a text from the reading spine, which is a working document, and read this book every day for 15 minutes and would always finish the book. How many times do we leave a book without finishing with our classes? Reading sessions were then timetabled every day – we just wanted the children to enjoy being read to. On Monday’s and Friday’s morning reading lessons the text is studied through a quick quiz, recap questions, and Viper questions. The impact here lies in that there is no differentiation, every child stays in class and has the same challenge as their peers – no differentiated worksheets but adaptation by the teacher through scaffolding questioning and support to answer questions. All children have a reading workbook, but work isn’t marked in it, instead teachers will look at them during the lesson and in addition to their questioning identify any misconceptions to address in the moment or feed into the next day’s lesson.

Tuesday – Thursday non-fiction

We then went back to our vision of reading more ‘non-fiction’, something we did not do enough of, and as per Ashley’s zoom session decided too that Tuesday – Thursday’s reading lessons would be based on non-fiction texts. The beauty here is that if – for example – you have something in Science coming up on electricity you can use non-fiction texts to learn about who invented the light bulb etc and then your science lesson is spent on scientific skills and not research. Your reading lesson is then spent using comprehension skills to answer questions, using the VIPER questions.

You can’t do anything alone

I had gone away and done the research but could not deliver this alone and so firstly I presented our re-designed reading curriculum to the rest of the SLT who were able to support and challenge. Because the vision was so clear along with ‘why’ we were doing this and ‘how’ we were going to achieve this there was instant buy-in. Being in a large school we don’t have subject leads but instead work in curriculum groups. We identified five teachers who have a real love of reading and formed a new reading group. I shared the vision and keynote with them and again had instant buy-in due to the clarity of why we needed to change. As teachers they longed for some clarity and were eager to go away and plan lessons for each year group for the Tuesday – Thursday lessons ready for when we delivered this to all staff on our inset day. Examples can be found here.


And so, on our September inset day it was time to deliver what had been 18 months in researching to all our staff. Unfortunately, due to Covid and social distancing this had to be over Zoom but fortunately the message was still clear. Staff knew that they could come to anyone in the reading group for support and that this was going to be a trial term with us having a staff meeting a few weeks later sharing what was and wasn’t working and why.

Half a term on

So here we are half a term in and what is the impact? The Tuesday – Thursday lessons are fantastic opportunities for teaching non-fiction and teachers have used these sessions for pre-teaching across the curriculum, children have never been exposed to so much non-fiction. The lessons are structured and these parts are being used across the curriculum, such as the PSHE style questions.

As a three-from entry Primary School, each year group teacher has taken a different text from a band of the reading spine to read. They are then incorporating this into literacy lessons, but each class will have a different text to base the genre on. So, for example in Year 6 they might be writing a diary extract but based on a character from: The Nowhere Emporium, Holes and Goodnight Mr Tom. This is giving teachers much more autonomy plus what works for one class might not be relevant for another.


So, what next? I’ll be leaving Layton at Christmas and so it’s important that we can sustain the reading curriculum, which from having the buy-in and reading group we now have. We are now looking at having a whole school reading assessment as we do not have one and so are looking at some from Alex Quigley in his book ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’. This will give a baseline assessment of where our children are but – more time will be spent feeding the pig and less time weighing! We haven’t chucked the baby out with the bath water – some children still need that intervention, and this still happens as and when needed.

We also need to embed that real love of reading where it’s at the heart of our school, where children and adults are sharing the texts they are reading. Where there are book clubs, teachers recording themselves reading stories and posting on the website for children to listen to at home. This really is just the start of the journey and I for one will ensure in my new school that no matter what children’s backgrounds are it is our duty as teachers to bestow the gift of reading. Jane Considine puts it perfectly ‘ Without reading, a child’s world shrinks and begins to narrow. Opportunities are limited , doors begin to close and self-esteem crumbles. Teachers must get it right.

3 thoughts on “Re-designing a whole school reading curriculum

  1. Natalie Lewis

    A fantastic read, I’m embarking on pushing whole school reading with staff who may not see the reason behind it. In many ways I feel if I can produce resources that are linked to their curriculum then hopefully I’ll get the buy in needed. Lots to do:)


  2. Pingback: Do We Need to Sort Out Silent Reading?

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