Literacy Leadership Part 2: Building With Care

Nov 5, 2016 | Effective Practice, Teaching Struggling Readers, Whole School Literacy

Transformation can be incremental

For the second part of this three-part series, we talked to Lisa Cliffe, the Literacy Lead at Meols Cop High School, an ‘outstanding’ school in Southport. Lisa is directly responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the Literacy Centre. This has given her a pivotal role in managing change as she implements the new intervention.

Lisa sees the active involvement of SLT in the changes at Meols Cop as integral to the Centre’s success. “I’d say it was the most important thing. Communication with the whole staff was done by SLT, and they made it clear that this is what we’re doing, this is why, and you will see impact.” Knowing that she had the explicit support of the leadership team was vital to giving her the confidence she needed, and to securing the support of the wider staff.

A key element of the school’s intervention was to align the new initiative with English rather than SEN. This seems to have focused the intervention on outcomes rather than diagnoses: “The low reading ages were seen as a shortfall in the teaching of literacy, so I suppose it falls on the English Department doesn’t it, because it’s about kids not being at their reading age, rather than what SEN needs they might or might not have. It’s like the term dyslexia – we just remove the term because the focus is on helping them to read regardless.”

This doesn’t mean that special needs are ignored – on the contrary, the very specific teaching procedures used mean that all students in the intervention, including those with SEN, have made substantial progress. “We’ve delivered every part of the [10-part] lesson, and our students have all made progress, so in my head now the way forward is to push that further. Our students have made really good progress since April, and now it’s about pushing that even further.” ‘Pushing it further’ is a mantra that has served students well.

It was important to know that additional expertise would be available to help solve problems as they arose. The team met regularly to ensure consistency of practice and to share their questions. “I think there will always be little things that come up that you don’t expect, where you need that extra input . . . it’s good having someone available to answer questions by email or telephone. So I’m taking on board issues that TAs have had, and we’re talking about them as a team, and then taking the feedback and making sure that we’re embedding things in the right way.”

This attention to getting details right, and to continuous improvement, is crucial in order to extract maximum impact from the intervention.


As a leader, Lisa also recognised that she had to maintain her own perspective to ensure that the intervention continued to grow in impact. She found that it was helpful to take time away from the team to receive input as the intervention leader. “Not that it’s them and us, we work as team, but someone needs to take that role for the monitoring, for making sure that things are done as they should be. There were lots of little things I picked up on, and I think you need that time out from the whole team.”

She also accepted that it would take time to get everything right, and focused on moving forward incrementally. “I think the way the training’s delivered is as it should be, because you wouldn’t be able to fit any more on board over a two-day period.” The training is delivered in three two-day blocks with periods for practice in between. Observation with coaching and feedback is given towards the end of the process. “I think the best thing was being observed yesterday and being able to talk through the lesson. We needed a good couple of months to do it, to make the changes we needed to make, before that.”


Four lessons we have drawn from Lisa’s experience:

  1. Get programme delivery exactly right: ‘sweating the small stuff’’ is essential at delivery, especially when working with students who have previously made slow progress.
  2. Push it further. We push and see what we get – and then we push it again. This determined attitude is crucial for helping students accustomed to failure to believe that they can succeed.
  3. Keeping a leader’s perspective is essential to providing direction and setting expectations for progress, including solving problems and ensuring consistently good practice.
  4. Look for steady, incremental progress rather than ‘quick wins’. Ultimately effective change is embedded through normalising new expectations.


As we will see in our final post in the series, this patient but determined approach is yielding results.

You may also be interested in:

Literacy Leadership Part 1

Looking for Impact? Structure Matters

First, Catch Your Chicken

Combine with Precision

The Natural Home for Reading Interventions 


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