Wirral school’s innovative literacy programme shortlisted for leading education award

The Birkenhead Park School’s approach to improving young people’s academic ability in reading and literacy has been recognised with a shortlisting for a leading North West education award.

Educate Awards named the Birkenhead-based institution as finalists for their Innovative and Creative Literacy Award 2021 alongside two other schools, and the winners will be announced at a ceremony at Liverpool Cathedral on 19 November honouring the very best in educational practice.

‘The Big Read’ is an ambitious project at The Birkenhead Park School, aimed at improving the life chances and academic success rates for their students through focused reading time both in and out of school.

Introduced in 2018, the programme was a direct and meaningful response to the number of students who joined the school from primary education with an assessed reading age ability of below their actual age in years.

Nearly three-quarters of Year 7 students have improved their reading ages at the school, and in further years up to 65% have progressed beyond their actual age in terms of their reading and literacy abilities.

The decisive and innovative action addresses the gaps that some students face in reading ability and vocabulary that may be a barrier to their learning, and the programme involves daily reading exercises that are designed to inspire a love of reading in their students, no matter their starting points.

Timetabled sessions with form tutors see all students in the first three years of high school take part in a 30-minute read of the same book each day, with teachers reading aloud while students follow in their own copies of the books, and the books are chosen to be age-appropriate and diverse for each stage of development.

Teachers at The Birkenhead Park School have received specialist training to raise the aspirations of all students when it comes to reading, producing inspiring assemblies to introduce each new book, and also have targeted interventions for students who are identified as having particularly low reading ages.

Headteacher at The Birkenhead Park School, Helen Johnson, said, “This is a project that we have worked passionately and tirelessly on, so to receive national recognition is not just an honour but also deserved praise for the tremendously dedicated staff we have here at the school.

“We are an inclusive school, and both here and across the BePART Educational Trust that we are part of, we believe in the science and research that tells us that all students can achieve given the right tools and the right work ethic. The success of The Big Read project is also a reflection of the positive attitude and determination that our students have shown across the years which has been second-to-none.”

Mrs Johnson continued: “We have ignited a love of reading in our students, and the passion and ability in reading is a gateway to academic success in GCSEs and beyond. The pathways that are opened to young people who have benefited from the programme are countless, and we are absolutely committed to offering a full and rounded education to all students, no matter their backgrounds or starting points or what school they come to us from.

“Our goal is to change lives, and the Big Read programme is just one element of how we go about that every day.”

Image: The Birkenhead Park School English teacher, Gemma Smith, with students at the school.

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