What happens when we teach explicitly, systematically and optimistically.

We heard this week that Meols Cop High School had held their first Literacy Centre graduation ceremony. Lisa, the Literacy Lead, tweeted a photo of eight Year 11 students and their tutors. What they have achieved is amazing.

To ‘graduate’ means that the student can read graded unseen material at their chronological age – that is, they have caught up completely, and are now reading within the average range for their age group. Given that all students started out reading at least three years behind, this is impressive – especially when it has happened in a matter of months.

Making rapid progress also improved the students’ confidence, self-esteem, and motivation. Lisa has been struck by the development of  a ‘growth mindset’ – not through focusing on growth mindset, but by teaching in a systematic, explicit way so that students gain success every step of the way. This success begins to make them believe in themselves and their power to learn.  The impact is evident to teachers around the school, who regularly comment on changes in students’ attitudes and motivation. Crucially, they also comment on improved reading and comprehension across subjects. “All of our students have enjoyed it,” she added,  “even a couple of ‘cool’ ones.” Now that all Year 10 students with reading problems have been identified and are being helped, Year 9 are being tested to ensure that none of them is left behind either.

Not all Year 10s have graduated yet. One student, who began reading at a six-year-old level, is now reading at twelve years – with three times the fluency she had, and with 100% accuracy. She is likely to catch up to her age completely in the next month or so.

It’s absolutely the right thing to do to recognise and celebrate such success. Each one of these students has a story, and that story now has a new chapter – a chapter that couldn’t have been written before. As Lisa says, becoming a capable reader really is “life-changing”.

It hasn’t been a simple path. What has been achieved has come through systematic, explicit teaching, and communicating optimism, enthusiasm and determination to the students. It has needed clear vision and strong leadership support. It has required training, practice, and organisation. But as a result, the students have exceeded all prior expectations of their ability. That is the lesson that these graduates can teach us.

If the estimate of Henry Levin at Columbia University is correct, and preventing one high school dropout is worth a net saving to society of $209,000 (£166,782 according to today’s exchange rate) then there is reason to believe that this school has just contributed over £1.3 million to the community, with much more to come. Now that really is a community school!


Levin, H.M., and Belfield, C.R. (2007). Educational Interventions to Raise High School Graduation Rates. In C.R. Belfield and H.M. Levin (Eds.), The Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education (pp. 177–199). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

You may also be interested in:

Literacy Leadership Part 1: Clear Vision

Literacy Leadership Part 2: Building With Care

Literacy Leadership Part 3: Return on Investment

Looking for Impact? Structure Matters

Addicted to Denial


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