Case study: Improving attainment in year 4

Written by: Ciara Murphy | Published:
Image: iStock

In a bid to bridge the gap between years 2 and 6, school leader Ciara Murphy focused on outcomes in year 4, implementing four key strategies to improve attainment in reading and writing

The Northumberland CE Academy is an all-through school with campuses in Ashington, Newbiggin and Lynemouth. I joined the Newbiggin campus as a supply teacher during the September of its inaugural year. At the time, parents and students were very sceptical and anxious about the changing educational landscape in Newbiggin.

Newbiggin had been a bustling fishing and mining town in the past, however due to the closing of the mines and the rise in the cost associated with fishing, unemployment became very high and aspirations low.

This, mingled with an ever-changing leadership structure within the school and a high turnover of staff, caused a few parents to become understandably tense; some even moved their children to other local schools.

However, I was firm in my conviction that providing high-quality education to the children I worked with would serve to dissipate parents’ worries. After three years, I joined the senior leadership team as an associate leader.

As a member of the senior leadership team, I was very aware that standards in literacy were below expected levels, especially in lower key stage 2. Therefore, when I joined the Future Leaders programme in June 2014, I decided to focus my attention on improving this area.

My first step was to look at the current data on learners entering year 4. The data showed that:

  • In writing, 49 per cent of students had made 1 sub-level of progress.
  • In writing, 46 per cent of students had made 2 sub-levels of progress.
  • In writing, five per cent of students had made 3 sub-levels of progress.
  • In reading, eight per cent of students had made no progress since key stage 1.
  • In reading, 38 per cent of students had made 1 sub-level of progress.
  • In reading, 50 per cent had made 2 sub-levels of progress.
  • In reading, only three per cent of students had made three sub-levels progress.

As a historically underachieving year group, year 4 was noted to be a year where learner progress and attainment became stagnant. This ideology and culture needed to be challenged and became the focus of my impact initiative.

The aim

The aim of my impact initiative was to raise the profile of year 4 as a key indicator of progress and attainment, bridging the gap between year 2 and year 6. To achieve this, we aimed to raise the progress and attainment of students in year 4 in reading and writing to ensure 100 per cent of students made expected progress and 50 per cent of students made more than expected progress since key stage 1.

In order to achieve this I aimed to ensure that 100 per cent of teaching in year 4 was considered to be good or better by the end of January 2015.

The strategies

We implemented four key strategies which would improve the standard and consistency of teaching. Results from our Ofsted observation, conducted in July 2014, revealed that only 34 per cent of teaching and learning in year 4 was considered “good” and that 66 per cent was “inadequate”. By raising teaching standards, I knew that pupil attainment in reading and writing would improve.

Student progress meetings

One of the first steps I took was establishing student progress meetings prior to each data submission, in order to hold staff to account for the progress and attainment of the students in their class.

Staff were asked to populate a form in which they were asked about the specific progress of students in their class, I then compared the results to baseline data and measured the difference. This allowed me to quickly understand how well each member of staff knew their students in terms of what the student had achieved and what the next steps should be to progress them to the next level.

It became clear rather quickly that staff were not used to being challenged about their students’ progress. However, once I explained the rationale behind my strategies, staff began to see the benefits and to use data to create more comprehensive and personalised plans for their students, rather than relying on basic judgements.

These meetings also allowed me to identify key CPD areas that needed addressing, which I acted on promptly by ensuring staff had access to the correct training to meet their needs. This would not only improve teaching but also ensure staff felt more confident.

Raising Attainment cards (RA cards)

I was aware that some teachers within year 4 struggled to adjust to the different learning styles needed by some pupils, particularly when pupils first joined at the start of the year.

We introduced Raising Attainment (RA) cards which teachers filled out for each student, listing the strategies that they knew worked for them over time. These cards were then shared with the teacher who took over the class the next year.

The cards were also available to all teachers who then had a bank of strategies tailored to different learning styles. This was particularly effective when it came to students with autism or emotional and behavioural issues – although each card was tailored to individual pupils, having the cards available meant teachers could share best practice.

Reading club (for years 6 and 4)

I established a reading club at lunchtime for targeted students in year 4 who needed further work in their reading, especially with inference. Rather than use members of staff, I developed “inference experts in year 6” who I trained to work on a one-to-one basis with each year 4 student. I also ensured that everyone had a hot chocolate and a cosy space to work!

I chose year 6 students who needed a confidence boost and who I believed would be able to provide emotional support to the year 4 pupils. Including year 6 students allowed the programme to benefit pupils across the school, and meant that rather than feeling as though they were in an extra lesson pupils felt mentored and supported by their peers. This proved to be very successful and the model of using year 6 students to work with year 4 pupils has now been adopted by other campuses.

Moderation meetings

I set up and led moderation meetings for all year 4 staff to ensure there was a common understanding on assessment judgements. Creating a comprehensive and consistent method of marking was important in ensuring staff understood accurately what level their pupils were working at and how much they had improved.

We used examples of moderated work, which had been approved by Ofsted, to discuss and establish a moderation file, which staff could use as a basis for formulating assessment judgements.


By the end of the year the profile of year 4 was raised, 79 per cent of learners made expected progress in reading and 49 per cent of learners made above expected progress since key stage 1. In writing, 83 per cent of learners made expected progress and 40 per cent of learners made above expected progress since key stage 1.

Although I initially received some pushback from staff, I found that when I communicated ideas in a clear and concise manner, I was able to show the need for these strategies. I believe effective communication is essential in developing a sense of urgency and establishing a platform for change. It was also important to trust and allow staff to take the lead on intervention so that they felt a part of the process.

In order to sustain this impact in the future, it is crucial, at the beginning of the year, that all teaching and support staff have the opportunity to fully interrogate the data. Therefore, starting in the next academic year, teaching and support staff had allocated time at the beginning of year with a member of the senior leadership team to interrogate their data fully.

Many of the strategies which I implemented have begun to be used across academy campuses and rather than viewing year 4 as a year of stagnant progress, the results above proved that this did not have to be the case. The improvements made so far have been phenomenal and the work we have done puts the students in our school in a better position to achieve their ambitions.

  • Ciara Murphy is the vice principal at Cramlington Village Primary School, which is part of the Northumberland CE Academy. Ciara joined the Ambition School Leadership Future Leaders development programme in 2014.

Ambition School Leadership

Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. You can find out how you and your school can work with them at

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