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Teacher Talk: Verity Lee, Assistant Head of School at Sunnyside Spencer Academy, discusses Reading Plus

Sunnyside Spencer Academy's priorities when looking for a reading development programme:
- Concentrating on motivation
- Celebrating the love of reading
- Providing interventions to stop children from slipping

Verity Lee, Assistant Head of School at Sunnyside Spencer Academy, talked with us about how Reading Plus has helped shape reading at their school to fit their specific circumstances.

Sunnyside Spencer Academy demographics:

  • Sunnyside Spencer Academy is located in Nottingham in an area of high deprivation, with 56% of their students being eligible for pupil premium.
  • Many children who join their school enter below their chronological age for reading with underdeveloped communication and language.
  • A high proportion of their children have social services involvement, and pupil mobility is high due to poor social housing.
  • 26% of their pupils are EAL (English as an Additional Language), with an increased number of children joining from Hong Kong and Ukraine.
  • Over 20% of their students have SEN (Special Educational Needs).

Verity states:

“All the reasons stated above makes it really clear to us that reading should always be at the core of everything we do, and it’s always our first priority”.

School Requirements

Our priorities:

- Consistency with the programme
- Concentrating on motivation
- Celebrating the love of reading
- Providing interventions to stop children from slipping

Why Reading Plus?

We recognised that we needed something additional that pupils could use independently, at home or school, to improve their comprehension, fluency, and stamina.

As a leader, I knew it was essential to ensure that we had a clear vision during the programme’s free trial. School budgets are tight and if we’re going to invest in a programme for reading it needed to be used well. Our vision was to ensure consistency, ensure that our pupils were motivated to use the programme and, most importantly, enjoy reading.

We needed a focus on intervention to ensure pupils made rapid progress and, if we were spotting gaps in their abilities, that we were making sure we could meet those gaps.

Easy Implementation in School Routine

We’ve been using Reading Plus for the past three years across Key Stage 2 classes, alongside our whole class reading lessons and our ‘Drop Everything and Read’ enjoyment lessons at the end of the day.

Consistency is our priority, so we make sure that every morning when the children arrive, they have the Reading Plus screen in front of them so they can see the coloured blocks of their achievements throughout the week. You can see what they’re achieving in their vocabulary and comprehension. Lower scores can often simply be a bad morning or just a lack of concentration on that day. We also make sure that the class is silent to aid that concentration. Any member of staff that is around to take interventions can clearly look at the interactive whiteboard in the morning and take children who might need that quick, in-the-moment intervention.

We also ensure that our reading lessons and reading for pleasure continue on top of our use of Reading Plus; this is not a replacement for reading. This is just something additional that can help with fluency and stamina.

Benefits of Reading Plus Data Collection

The most important part of Reading Plus is how it breaks down the different areas of reading and the different skills. For example, we’ve got a child who is reading well above his chronological age, but there are still areas that he needs to focus on, like the structure of a text. This allows us to target those interventions using the skill builders or one-to-one reading.

Children who struggle to concentrate read one-to-one with an adult daily, even if it’s on the programme, sometimes they just need to read it out loud. And again, that aids concentration and comprehension.

School Customisation

At Sunnyside Spencer Academy, we make sure that we focus on the gap in reading areas within our weekly RAG (Red, Amber and Green) meetings.

As a school, we also invest in something called ‘Magic Breakfast’, where the children have access to cereal, bagels and toast every morning. This is because breakfast is so important for us to get that energy into those children and make sure that they concentrate as soon as they enter school.

Reading Plus is designed to be at the speed that the child can read, so there is no excuse for children to be slipping behind. Therefore, we need to make sure that we check that straight away. We always look at the screen to see who’s doing well and ensure it’s celebrated.

Celebrating Success

We ensure that within our staff meetings and briefings, we’re talking about children who are achieving, especially those children that sometimes go unnoticed.

If children achieve over 85%, we reward them with our ‘Proud Pounds’ – little golden coins that children add together within their teams, which they can use to win things like hot chocolate.

We make sure certificates go home every time a child moves up a level, and we also celebrate them by popping them on our classroom walls.

We also celebrate a reader of the week or a pupil who has shown the most improvement or progress, and we share this on our platforms and newsletter.

We use our ‘Proud Pounds’ to celebrate children when they’re using the Reread button and to make sure that they are checking rather than guessing. Some of our children thought that that was a bit of a cheat, but we always encourage them to look back at the text.

Pupil Enjoyment

We use a book ladder, so when children move up different levels, they can move their name on the ladder and see what they’re achieving. They’ll come for a high five because they’re so proud of themselves.

Also, we ask the children to add something they’ve learned to a post-it note wall because after using the programme, they’re desperate to share, but their peers are still concentrating. By adding it to the wall, children can share it with their friends after the session.

Positive Impact of Reading Plus

We participated in a study with Derby Research School where we measured the progress of pupils who used the programme and those who didn’t. Our school findings were that all but one child left our year six class at or above their chronological age for reading.

Furthermore, we monitor the children to see whether they could demonstrate the stamina needed to get to the end of a SATs paper.

Some examples of success are:

Student One – A new EAL student from Hong Kong with no knowledge of the English language.

They started with the vocabulary section of Reading Plus, and then once that vocabulary was built, they were able to start then accessing the texts. Upon the first try, they didn’t reach the end of the paper. However, by the end of the year, the accuracy of their questions was much better, and they achieved 40 marks.


Student Two – A student with Special Educational Needs (SEND)

In the beginning, they did not reach the end of the paper. By the end of the year, they were reaching the end of the paper, and they were achieving over the expected score.


Student Three – A student who is PP and EAL

At the beginning of the year, they struggled with the stamina to get to the end of the paper. By the end of the year, they were getting to the end of the paper and were accurate.


If you would like more information on how Reading Plus can cater to individual students’ needs and improve SATs results at your school, check out our SATS page here


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