Three years ago, Chenderit School decided it wanted to focus on becoming a "literacy community". Consequently, students have been trained in creating presentations and lesson starters on grammar teaching for other classes; Year 12s have acted as literacy tutors for Year 8s; and a group of pupils have even formed a "literacy steering group", which has reviewed the school's marking policy.
These pupils explained that it wasn't helpful if teachers just wrote "spg" in the margins when they made mistakes. So they have adapted their marking to give spellings on selected words and formatively question misspellings - for example, asking for three other words in a similar word group to the misspelt one.
A group of pupils in Years 8-10 shared the school's work on literacy at a National Literacy Trust event in 2009, and were pleased with the response from the 150 delegates.
Pupils developed their own conference on literacy and student leadership, which was held at Chenderit and hosted 30 students and 15 staff from other schools. The conference included a range of sessions in which the young people shared their work. They were also able to showcase techniques that the school uses to involve teachers and parents. These include weekly 10-minute staff training sessions in key aspects of literacy, as well as meetings with the parents of incoming Year 7 pupils to show them how they can support reading at home.
Year 12 students and two parent volunteers have operated as literacy tutors, offering 20-minute sessions before school to Year 8 pupils who received no other additional help.
Meanwhile, Year 8 pupils have developed learning materials to pitch to an imaginary publisher. The success of that project means the school is now approaching real publishers with its proposal for the book Fifty Ideas Promoting Cross-Curricular Literacy.
Deputy principal Patrick Taylor says: "We are thinking of the teacher who teaches 22 hours a week - they need simple, effective ideas that they know work."
The book will also contain comments from pupils on the strategies teachers are using and what they find effective about them.
Tips from the scheme
- Get students to come up with their own quick ideas on improving literacy that can be easily managed over the year.
- Make briefings useful. Chenderit used its staff briefing to showcase a piece of good practice from a different member of staff every week. Standard briefing information instead goes out via email.
- Use the school day for literacy-based ideas and groups. Gathering pupils after school can be difficult, so utilise form and break times.
- Trust the student voice to give valuable feedback on teacher practice - putting students in an advisory and leader role has paid off at Chenderit. Mr Taylor says: "Students are never cynical; they are sensitive and will surprise you with what they come up with."
Evidence that it works?
Tracking spelling attainment across Year 7 using Schonell spelling tests, the school has found that the majority of students have made greater than average progress in spelling. The proportion gaining five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, has risen by an average of 5 percentage points each year over the past three years, and now stands at 63 per cent.
Approach: Students lead a literacy conference for teachers
Project started: 2008
Led by: Deputy principal Patrick Taylor
Name: Chenderit School
Number of pupils: 1,162
Age range: 11-18
Intake: A larger-than-average community secondary. Few free school meals or English as an additional language learners
Specialist status: Visual arts
Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2011).