Case study: A focus on literacy and numeracy

Written by: Craig Clarke | Published:
Achievement: Lea Forest pupils with the school’s reading and maths displays (all images)

Thorough implementation of reading and maths initiatives have paid off at Lea Forest Primary Academy. Craig Clarke explains

Lea Forest, an AET primary academy in the Kitts Green area of Birmingham, has been on a rollercoaster journey, starting with a “requires improvement” from Ofsted in 2014, which led to a whole-school approach to raising standards.

The school’s in-take reflects significant social deprivation and a legacy of mass unemployment in the area. Almost three quarters of the pupils are disadvantaged and qualify for Pupil Premium. The proportion of pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) is also above the national average. It is a two-form entry primary school with increasing numbers over the last few years and 468 pupils currently on roll.

However, in 2016 specific projects to accelerate progress and raise standards in reading and maths were initiated by a further Ofsted report, which concluded that “pupils’ love of reading is not widespread”, and “children do not learn consistently in reading, writing and maths”.

Over the last 12 months, the academy has worked relentlessly to drive up standards in maths and reading. It has embedded two initiatives that have demonstrated significant impact:

  • “Resilient Reader” – raising pupils’ self-belief, confidence, engagement and achievement with reading.
  • “Maths mastery”, a five-part model to develop pupils’ fluency, reasoning and problem-solving skills.

These projects have led to a marked increase in progress and attainment and a more practical approach to teaching, learning and assessment at Lea Forest.

What we did – reading

We partnered with another school through the Birmingham Education Partnership to help raise standards in reading. Lea Forest’s reading lead and I also attended an AET conference where the trust’s Resilient Reader approach was introduced.

Based around a superhero character called Resilient Reader, the strategy aims to inspire children to read regularly and to give them key skills, such as scanning and skimming texts, as well as support with vocabulary and techniques such as inference and explaining. The senior leadership team decided to introduce this at Lea Forest to provide a consistent, whole-school approach to teaching reading and to engage pupils.

Resilient Reader was launched to the staff, with high-quality resources ensuring that the new approach was visible in all classrooms during the spring term. Staff were motivated and keen to use Resilient Reader techniques in the classroom to improve the teaching of reading.

Furthermore, after visiting another school in Birmingham which had had success in reading, we introduced reading buddies: year 5 and 6 children support younger readers and share books. This allowed the children to develop their Resilient Reader skills independently. This continues, with huge success.

Non-negotiables were also discussed and agreed by staff and pupils – this led to consistency across the whole academy. Resilient Reader is now consistent in all year groups and the children can fully articulate the skills required to be a successful reader.

Elsewhere, our new school library, opened in September 2017, is now the heart of the school. It helps foster the love of reading and is open after school to serve the wider community, allowing pupils to share books with their parents.

Parent workshops have also helped to share the vision of reading with families, further strengthening the consistent approach to the teaching of reading. We are also sharing our approaches to reading with other Birmingham schools, and further afield. We are confident that our new approach will help us gain higher attainment and increased progress.

What we did – maths

We set up a maths change team to trial the maths five-part mastery model: show (representing), do (fluency), think (probing questions), explain (reasoning), solve (rich and complex tasks). Throughout the summer term, maths lead Rachel Ward and I trialled the new approach to the teaching of maths. The five-part model was introduced to all staff and non-negotiables were shared for the academic year. Staff also had INSETs, further training and coaching throughout the school year. Consistency was ensured by the senior leaders and middle leaders demonstrating good/outstanding teaching and learning in maths, and through regular showcases, in which staff were encouraged to share books, planning and resources in staff meetings.

The five-part model is now fully embedded and lessons, books and classroom environments are of a consistently high standard. Schools from as far away as Plymouth have visited to observe our approach to the teaching of maths.

The results

Now all classrooms have an interactive maths working wall which shows the five-part model with key examples, vocabulary, models and evidence of children’s work to support children in their learning journey. They also have a Resilient Reader display with a display of the “resilient reader of the week” to celebrate children’s achievements.

Pupils are also awarded certificates for their achievements and across the school, staff have exemplification booklets of high-quality activities and examples of work to support and share the best practice in the school.

Drop-in sessions enable middle leaders to support teachers in ensuring a consistent approach. A coaching model also supports and improves teaching, learning and assessment.

Although consistency is key, we never take away teachers’ individuality. Consistency sets the minimal expectation: anything else is a bonus.
The evidence of success came with the improved 2017 key stage 1 SATs results (reading from 62 to 77 per cent and maths from 58 to 72 per cent). At key stage two, reading results improved from 42 to 60 per cent, while maths went from 58 to 77 per cent. During the same period, school progress scores have gone from -3.7 to -0.3 in reading and from -1.7 to +2.4 in maths.

In addition, parents are increasingly involved in reading, including running after-school library sessions. Weekly reading competitions are also held in the library. Timetables and staff have been shuffled, resources are more vibrant, written work has seen profound changes, children and staff behave differently and the whole school has a positive vibe. All of these ingredients and the whole family pulling in the same direction are ensuring consistency and raising standards.

  • Craig Clarke is deputy headteacher for teaching, learning and assessment at Lea Forest Primary Academy in Birmingham. Lea Forest Primary Academy, along with all other AET schools are members of the SSAT network. Visit

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