How to create a positive reading culture in your school

One head of English offers advice on boosting literacy skills

Waheeda Simjee

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When I became literacy leader at Woodside High School in North London four years ago, I made it my mission to drive up reading standards in the school.

We didn’t want to rely on handing out incentives to get students to pick up a book. Instead, we decided to focus on how to create a whole-school reading culture – where a love of reading extends beyond the classroom, increasing standards as a result.

Here are a few of the steps we took:

  1. Adopt a whole-school approach

    Every subject can help students to build their literacy skills and their love of reading. Teachers should avoid treating literacy as the concern of the English department alone and take equal responsibility for its teaching. This is especially important in enthusing boys, who often prefer reading non-fiction books like those read in science and history.

  2. Share progress data

    Modern technology has made it very easy for teachers to monitor progress and identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, with new platforms for recording and sharing attainment data. At Woodside, we have found that regularly sharing progress data with the students helps them to focus and keeps them motivated to achieve.

  3. Don’t forget writing

    Students who are passionate about writing are more likely to become enthusiastic readers. So in addition to building dedicated reading time into the school day, it helps to set aside time for creative writing. We have encouraged students to join creative writing clubs and take part in writing competitions. We now have four anthologies that have been published by our students and we hold an annual "writers’ week", when students work with professional writers to develop their skills.

  4. Celebrate success

    It shouldn’t all be about incentives, but I do believe in giving out prizes for progress in reading and literacy. Celebrating success in assemblies and rewarding achievement is highly inspirational and fosters a positive attitude towards reading. This helps to create a sense of fun around literacy for the most reluctant readers and can kick-start them onto a journey where they develop a love of reading.

  5. Make the most of the school library

    School libraries are at risk of slipping into obscurity as resources move online and young people find alternative ways to spend their lunch break. However, the library is central to developing a school reading culture. Build dedicated library time into the timetable to help students realise the opportunities that the library can offer them, if it is properly used.

Waheeda Simjee is acting head of English at Woodside High School in North London

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Waheeda Simjee

Waheeda Simjee is acting head of English at Woodside High School

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