How to save time and money through screening

Jun 14, 2017 | Literacy Leadership, Teaching Struggling Readers, Whole School Literacy

There is a well-known framework for intervention, known as Response to Intervention (RTI), which proposes that students can receive help at three different levels of intensity:

Tier 1 – good quality classroom instruction and school structures that encourage learning.

Tier 2 – small group instruction to address needs that a few students have in common.

Tier 3 – intensive one-to-one instruction for students where Tier 2 is not effective.

Sometimes people are critical of this model as it is deemed an ineffective intervention, but RTI is not strictly an intervention, it is model for delivering interventions – more specifically, for deciding how to allocate resources, so that those who need the most get the most. To get the most from an RTI model, appropriate strategies have to be used at each level – not just more of what they’ve already received (and hasn’t worked).

Recently I came across this short but useful practice brief on RTI implementation via the Institute for Evidence in Education. It is recommended reading for school leaders who are responsible for allocating resources.

The issues covered in the report are very familiar:

  1. Timetabling and resourcing concerns are always tricky, but especially in the current school funding environment.
  2. The degree to which staff are trained is very important. We have always focused on a coaching model for staff who deliver the Thinking Reading programme, but now we are also using a coaching model for intervention leadership, to embed good practice and high evaluation standards.
  3. It is necessary to use a robust screening system which enables the school to allocate students to different levels of intervention. It is surprising how often we come across a lack of clear criteria or policy in this area; often directing a student to an intervention is reactive to teacher referrals or behavioural difficulties, instead of proactive in identifying needs and addressing these before they impinge on progress.
  4. Consequently, it is essential to differentiate clearly between Tier 2 and Tier 3 and to balance resourcing against actual student needs. Limited resources have to be used effectively. Students who need Tier 3 will benefit very little from Tier 2; likewise, comparatively expensive Tier 3 resourcing should be reserved for those who really need it. A good screening system will enable the school to make judicious decisions.


Without screening systems, a school may think that their needs for intervention are greater than they really are. If we just list all the students with one low test score, then it may seem that we have a literacy crisis. In one school where I worked, the first standardised test we ran suggested that 40% of Year 10 needed major intervention. If we had reacted to that one test score, we would have put our GCSE results at risk by pulling too many students out for unneeded interventions. Instead, further testing halved the numbers; and one-to-one testing halved this again.

When we begin training, one of the key areas we work on with the school is ensuring that rigorous screening systems are in place. Students have to score low on two standardised tests and a one-to-one reading assessment to be eligible for the programme. We normally eliminate two-thirds of apparent low attainers in this way (in the example above it was 75%). A good screening system will not only tell you more about the true levels of need, it will also help you to allocate help efficiently.

Such systems not only save schools money; they also ensure that students do not have their time wasted by being placed in interventions that they don’t need.

You may also be interested in:

Are All Students Screened for Reading?

Building on the Evidence

No Excuses Left

Pulling the Strands Together

It’s Not Too Late


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