How Reading Plus helped this school increase its SATs pass rate from 60% to 93% in just one year

Folkestone Primary Academy, a school with a higher than the national average percentage of pupils eligible for Pupil Premium funding, has successfully combined the Reading Plus programme with the current national curriculum. The result? Their SATs pass rate in Reading went from 60% to 93% in just one year. 

Here, Acting Headteacher, Sarah Uden, explains what happened:

When Folkestone Primary Academy opened in 2009, too few pupils were reading at the age-related expectation. Over the years, the school invested in reading resources, and the pupils made good improvements. However, when the new KS2 SATs Reading test was introduced in 2016, we were very disappointed to achieve 60%.

Learning about Lexile Levels

I was given a book called Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov, which talked about ‘Lexiles’. This prompted me to look into how we were teaching our children to read. Upon further investigation, I found that the Reading Plus programme gave pupils an approximate Lexile Range – indicating the children’s reading levels.

Mapping Lexile Ranges

We started to map our Key Stage 2 children to understand their Lexile Range. In Year 5, many children were working at a Lexile Range of 230-420, and gap analysis indicated that they needed to be higher than this.

Working out your pupils’ abilities

Then we looked at the correlation of the children’s Lexile levels from Reading Plus with the results from previous SATs papers. That data gave us an insight into what level the children needed to reach to be reading at the expected standard.

Reading at the expected standard

For example, the data demonstrated that our children needed to be getting an old-fashioned ‘4A’ on an old SATs paper to be working comfortably at the new National Standard – or above. From our analysis, we knew that the children reading at a ‘4A’ minimum last year were reading at a Lexile level of 950+, ideally 1000.

Adding milestones for years 3, 4 and 5

To add further impact, we tracked back through the year groups and put milestones in place. This meant we knew where our pupils in Year 3, 4, and 5 needed to be by the end of each academic year to be reading at the expected level for their age.

Early intervention

This work has meant that we can really keep an eye on the progress of our KS2 children. And we’re in a better position to identify and help those children who are struggling or falling behind.

How we used Reading Plus

We’ve used Reading Plus for a long time but now use it to far greater effect. Having made the Lexile analysis and correlation, we wanted to combine the programme with other methods – specifically one-to-one reading with a teacher or TA.

Engaging teachers

We increased Reading Plus sessions in KS2 to three times a week and involved the teachers more. We asked them to walk the room, look over pupil’s shoulders, and really ensure that the comprehension of each session they did was as good as it could be. We bought into the concept that, when it comes to Reading Plus, you really do have to be a cheerleader to get success.

Added support

We also carried out frequent assessments, and the teachers updated the spreadsheet each term with the Lexile levels. Any child who hadn’t, by that point, moved forwards was identified and given extra sessions or focus by the teacher.

School-specific encouragements

In addition to the focused sessions, we created a Champion Board that we displayed prominently in school so that the children could see it when they came out of their assembly. The teachers could also nominate the ‘Stars’ of that week, whether they were someone who’d got much higher percentages than before, or they’d moved up a level. Finally, we ran inter-class Cupcake Challenges.

Pupil-driven reading sessions

This created excitement and really encouraged and motivated the children to want to do well. Now, we even have children asking to do extra sessions and go onto Reading Plus during wet play break times.

Ongoing testing, assessment, and support

Our children hadn’t done any formal testing the year before as, due to the new curriculum, we’d decided not to use the old SATs tests. We changed this so that the children now get frequent exposure to unseen texts. Every time the children complete an old SATs paper, we put together a PowerPoint that demonstrates where and why they’d missed out on a mark – or why they’d got a question wrong.

Help with vocabulary definitions

Having had feedback from a marker of the new test, it was clear that they are extremely specific on vocabulary and the definition and meaning of vocabulary. The children have to know the definition without question, and they can no longer be vague about it. If the child cannot nail the answer, then they don’t get the mark. The vocabulary side of the Reading Plus programme has helped enormously with this element.

“Reading Plus adds depth to reading understanding, widens children’s knowledge of the world around them, and builds strong vocabulary.”

Our advice to other schools? 

At Folkestone Primary Academy, every child reads every day – we really have built our reputation on this. We’ve reviewed the balance in terms of the children’s exposure to fiction/non-fiction and used Reading Plus to enhance understanding of vocabulary and general knowledge of life, which is so important for our children.

The world at your feet – via text

Very often, the SATs texts relate to experiences that children haven’t encountered. Reading more non-fiction expands their worlds and opens their minds to new knowledge and understanding.

Staying focused during silent reading 

Reading Plus stories are so varied. It’s well worth 20 minutes a day. As much as we did one-to-one reading, there will always be a case of a child switching off and letting their mind wander when silent reading to themselves.

With Reading Plus, the children know they have to concentrate because they have to answer questions at the end. And the teacher will know straight away if they’ve got a poor score from not paying attention. It focuses the mind better, and the children are very competitive with themselves and want to get good scores

The outcome for Folkestone Academy in 2017

In the 2016 cohort, 20% of our children missed the pass mark by 3 marks or fewer. As a result, our overall score of children achieving the expected standard was 60% for Reading.

This year, 93% of the children achieved the expected standard, and we were absolutely thrilled. I can’t say that this is solely a result of what we did with Reading Plus, but I can say that this has been a significant contributing factor.

Reading Plus adds depth to reading understanding, widens children’s knowledge of the world around them, and builds strong vocabulary.