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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

See, B. H. & Gorard, S. (2020). Effective classroom instructions for primary literacy? A critical review of causal evidence. International Journal of Educational Research 102: 101577.

Author(s) from Durham


In the last two decades there has been a proliferation of proposals for instructional practices, all promising to improve pupils’ academic attainment. Many of these approaches have not been robustly or independently evaluated. Schools, enthusiastic to improve their children’s academic outcomes, may rely on some of the more popular but untested approaches. It is important to know which approaches are based on evidence of effectiveness, and which are not. Some approaches may be in widespread use and harming individuals’ lives either directly, or at the expense of better approaches. This paper summarises and synthesises evidence from research worldwide, concerning literacy teaching in primary schooling, to identify robustly tested teaching pedagogies that have shown to be effective, especially for pupils struggling with reading and writing. The review only considers evidence that has the potential to demonstrate causation. Each included study is assessed in terms of its quality, and whether the intervention offered any benefit. The programmes identified as promising represent the most appropriate evidence-led ways of improving primary literacy, among those that had been evaluated at the time of writing. The strongest evidence of what works for children struggling with literacy includes a range of specific interventions such as Fresh Start, Butterfly phonics, Accelerated Reader, and Switch-on Reading or Reading Recovery.

School of Education