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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Prof Stephen Gorard

See, B.H. & Gorard, S.A. (2014). Improving Literacy in the Transition Period: A Review of the Existing Evidence on What Works. British Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science 4(6): 739-754.

Author(s) from Durham


Background: The transition from primary to secondary schools in England is marked by a concern over potential learning loss, and the realisation that a small number of students have not reached an expected or threshold level of literacy. The latter can then impact on progress in all areas of the secondary curriculum, and is reflected in subsequent qualifications. Very similar issues arise worldwide. In England, money has been made available via the Pupil Premium and the Catch-up schemes to deal with this. Several ameliorative strategies have been suggested and implemented, and several of these have claimed success even though the evidence for many is unclear. This paper presents the results of a review of all the available international evaluation evidence, to distinguish between those approaches that work, or might work and those that clearly do not. Method: The review began with a search for all possible studies worldwide, focusing on those intervention programmes that have been rigorously evaluated. Results: Forty-three studies met the barest minimum of design and quality standards for programme evaluation. The most promising single intervention programme was ‘Response to Intervention’ but even here the evidence was unclear. Conclusion: Overall, these studies suggest that interventions to improve literacy for older children need to start earlier in the primary school years than current policy proposals in England intend. Successful interventions tended to be those that are clear and simple. They include teacher development at the outset, using new learning materials, and providing ongoing support focusing on those students clearly below the expected levels in literacy. However, there is still a range of interventions that could be effective but have not yet been tested. Large scale randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of these interventions could be conducted to establish their effects.