When I look at the children’s books now I can see that Writing is where they take a leap of faith, try on another person’s shoes, venture an opinion they may not be sure of, report about something brand new to them. Being able to express yourself, to work out what you stand for, to have a literacy taste and style of your own: these are lifelong gifts that I wanted for each child in my school from my first day here. Making that happen took time and application but I have learned it is within the reach of each and every child, given the right stimulus and support.
Which is where Literacy Tree come in! The first call I made on starting at Barrow Hill in 2013 was to Anthony and Lynn. Writing at our school was lower in terms of achievement than our Maths and Reading. It was also lower in terms of excitement, joy and purpose; a real Achilles heel that became my school priority from the first day in post. I had seen the spectacular effect this book-led/high interest approach had had on children at a school I had worked at previously.
My English Coordinator was new to the role, with Literacy Tree support she worked closely alongside teachers building up their understanding and confidence: a mutual CPD which generated the goodwill and positivity needed when taking any school in a new direction. We really chose our first book selection carefully; because the teachers were excited at each child having an actual book in their hands the children were too. We banished the scratty photocopied chapters and dull comprehensions of old. The children treated the new books like presents.
Literacy Tree plans pitched us headlong into a new immersive approach. It helped us grab the children’s imaginations and curiosity. It gave them a chance to explore and to accumulate skills and learning.
The results, both in terms of what the children told us and what we saw in books was immediate. Pride in work, an appetite to use new effects, a fresh motivation to reach different audiences, an understanding of the nuts and bolts of grammar: we say this grow week on week, term on term from that very first year. Other schools noticed and we invited them in, we moderated together and shared good practice. Quite a few of them contacted Literacy Tree after that too: all this was good for our teachers to know.
Writing has become a strength in our school, it benefits other subject too. We have built in cross curricular writing as a matter of course. We review our choices of books each year – keeping it fresh and asking the children for their opinions along the way. We now have a mixture of classics and new writing, a genuinely diverse mix of authors, cultures, settings and protagonists. We can do this because the range of texts and plans offered by Literacy Tree has grown so much over the last eight years.
A real strength has been the excellent CPD, during this time we have had staff changes and a change of English lead too. With every NQT, every teacher change, every curriculum tweak, we have had support and assistance for CPD. Maintaining that hard won enthusiasm and consistency is a challenge for all schools but the training has helped hugely. Knowing that we have climbed from having Writing data below national levels to having them significantly higher than national levels each and every year since gives teachers both pride and purpose.
Now, when I see the high standard of role play, discussion and interest throughout the school it makes me very happy. This has sparked thoughts, expressions and writing that makes the children’s books far more interesting and nuanced to read than before. I’m very glad I made that first phone call back in 2013!
David Tomlinson, Headteacher May 2021
KS: Lower KS2
Year Group: Year 3
KS: Lower KS2
Year Group: Year 3
KS: R & KS1
Year Group: Year 1