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Schools & Academies Show: “Literacy can be a bit of a dirty word sometimes”

November 18, 2022, 14:38 GMT+1
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Schools & Academies Show: “Literacy can be a bit of a dirty word sometimes”
  • Helen Mulley catches up with Bedrock Learning’s director of education, Olivia Sumpter, at the SAAS in Birmingham...
Schools & Academies Show: “Literacy can be a bit of a dirty word sometimes”

HM: What do you see as the main barriers to literacy progress that schools are facing at the moment?

OS: We’ve been working with schools for over eight years now, and it’s clear that vocabulary size and language capabilities have an enormous impact on outcomes. For example, we know that your vocabulary size at age four is one of the most reliable predictors of your educational attainment at age 18; and that your results in the Key Stage 2 reading paper will prove a more reliable predictor of your achievement in GCSE maths than the KS2 maths paper.

When we founded Bedrock, as teachers, we knew from experience that it’s very difficult for one person to do all the things that are necessary to embed and grow each individual’s vocabulary size. Alex Quigley has said that even the most expert teachers can’t always see vocabulary gaps; and then to be able to address those gaps in a personalised way, to assess that learning, and to re-teach and re-serve the relevant content for each individual at the time that’s most impactful for them…. well, it’s impossible; you can’t do it!

And that’s where Bedrock comes in?

Exactly. Personalised learning is a real challenge when you are one person in front of many, many learners; but it makes such a difference for academic attainment – and outcomes beyond the classroom, too.

How exactly does Bedrock help teachers deliver that personalised learning for literacy?

Obviously, we want to expose our learners to as wide a range of texts as possible; everything we teach at Bedrock is contextualised in rich and authentic fiction and non-fiction texts.

We begin with a formative, low-stakes assessment, so we know each individual’s starting point, and as they move through our curricula, teachers can clearly see how their vocabularies are growing. It improves vocabulary and grammar; but it also gives teachers and leaders invaluable insight into how language is progressing across their school, which is traditionally something that’s hard to track.

With Bedrock, schools get the data they need to see the impact the programme is having. 

So, how much time do teachers need to invest in the programme? 

Well, as I said earlier, I don’t think it’s actually possible for a teacher to do what Bedrock does, no matter how much time they might be able to invest!

Our reteaching algorithm harnesses the power of forgetting, in a way; in that we allow learners to ‘semi-forget’, then re-serve the content at the right time to make sure it’s retained in the long-term memory. It’s self-marking and self-assigning – the teacher doesn’t really have to do anything other than check that learners are using the programme and keep an eye on impact (and on that front, our statistics show that Bedrock has a statistically significant impact on pupil progress and vocabulary size, particularly in the SEND cohort, and with EAL learners).

It’s not all about intervention, though?

Definitely not; I think literacy can be a bit of a dirty word sometimes – but I really believe that we have to take a whole-school approach. Just because your most able learners have a great vocabulary, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t improve that further!

Your average school learner needs to add between 2,000 and 3,000 words to their vocabulary every year in order to keep up with the increasing demands of the curriculum – and that’s everybody. We help build a language-rich culture, and in the schools we work with, the learners really feel that.

How else can Bedrock support schools in developing a positive culture around language and literacy?

We have loads of additional resources; for example, we offer an amazing series of free webinars that any teacher can access, that are all to do with improving language learning in schools. And once you become a Bedrock school, you can access a really extensive range of additional support that’s not just on the platform.

But we do also have to acknowledge that schools are in different places. So yes, we work with some who have completely changed their culture and we’ve supported them to become a place where language really matters – and then we also have schools where Bedrock is really working for one incredible teacher, and it might take a little longer to engender change on a whole-school level.

We need to work with individual schools on their own terms.

Finally, we’re at the Schools and Academies Show today. What’s the main message you are hoping to get across to everyone who visits your stand?

Language matters. Don’t leave it to chance. Don’t leave it to highly motivated reading and to parents. Schools have to take proactive control of this issue to improve outcomes for their learners - and we can help!

To find out more, visit Bedrock Learning’s website.