Returning to my former school as a teacher rather than a pupil was always going to be interesting. Returning as literacy co-ordinator turned out to be a real challenge. Woodford Lodge High school in Winsford, Cheshire, is an 11-18 comprehensive, in an area of social deprivation, where 31 per cent of the students qualify for free school dinners and 41 per cent of the 127 Year 7 students have a spelling age of below 10.
The school has a firm commitment to improving literacy. As well as being involved in the Cheshire key stage 3 literacy pilot project, it had timetabled three literacy lessons a fortnight for Year 7. The five teaching groups were to run concurrently, and some students from Hebden Green, a school for children with physical disabilities that shares our site, were to join in.
Using the National Literacy Strategy framework as the basis for our lessons seemed logical. We started with Year 5 because of the children's relatively advanced abilities and to avoid any overlap with primary schools.
The teaching team included three English specialists, a learning support teacher with expertise in RE, history and geography and the head of our educational and behavioural difficulties unit who is also the SENCO and a member of the senior management team.
Students were to be taught in their mixed-ability form groups and, where possible, by their form tutor or English teacher.
I allocated subject areas to each term based on the literacy strategy's range statement for that term. When the poetry, prose and drama were added we had about three lessons for each subject area. Heinemann's First Steps books proved useful for the first part of our teaching on narrative writing, then we asked other departments for advice.
We had agreed to take a subject area each per term and to discuss literacy demands with the relevant department and the needs of the children in mind. Levels of support varied, but we successfully put together packs of three literacy lessons covering history, technology, PE, maths, science, art and geography.
Since Christmas, we have created a small group for the students who had the most difficulty. They are continuing with a modified version of the literacy hour. The other groups remain mixed-ability.
Although it is early days, the project has started to raise staff awareness of students' literacy needs and to improve students' confidence and skills. A huge additional benefit has been the link between Woodford Lodge and Hebden Green - students have enjoyed sharing lessons and forming friendships.