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The Rooted in Reading Award and student attainment

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

The Rooted in Reading Award passport was originally designed to be reading’s equivalent to the Duke of Edinburgh Award. The tasks are demanding and completion of 8 qualifies you for the bronze award, 12 for silver and 16 for gold.

Because of the amount of work involved in the tasks, which include things like reading a prize winning novel, attending a literary event or getting involved in a book group, a lot of students and possibly teachers too may well have been put off. Surely all this additional work will have a negative impact on my/their GCSEs or A levels, won’t it?

It was to try to answer this question that I visited Aldridge School: an Academy in Walsall. I knew that some students there had been working on the Award passports because I had heard about it from their librarian, Harbans Kaur, who had followed the instructions on the inside cover of the passports, to let me know about students who had completed an Award passport so that their achievement could be independently verified. The idea is that I keep a list of the names of all students who reach the required standard. Students can then inform external organisations who in turn can check on the students’ achievements with me if they wish. Harbans had already sent me photocopies of a random sample of the completed passports chosen by me and I had been very impressed by the detailed, reflective and thoughtful entries which the students in her Academy had written and by the clear evidence they showed of learning and progress.

What I now wanted to know was how the students themselves felt about the Award passports and what the experience of working through the tasks had actually been like. To help me find out, Harbans arranged for me to interview five Y12 students who had completed Award passports at different levels during Y11. Hazel (all names have been changed) was quick to point out a positive impact of the Award, saying “it made me realise how much I missed reading.” Charlie agreed, as she said she had “forgotten” about reading for pleasure sometime during KS3. Michaela felt that the tasks in the Award passport “got you to read outside genres you normally read in” and Hazel felt the challenges were “unique and really interesting, not repetitive” and a “nice transition back into reading before A level”. Others liked the way you can work through the tasks in the order and at a pace that you choose.

So what did the students get from completing these tasks? Charlie was clear that it was a positive experience – “it felt like it was adding a bit of knowledge”. Hazel was more explicit, saying “It made me write more reflectively and more evaluatively. It helped with English GCSE.” Michaela gave a personal example, “When you were doing classic books (she’d read Hamlet independently) it helped you cope with The Merchant of Venice when we did it in class.” Charlie agreed, “Pride and Prejudice got easier as you went along. It made tackling Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde easier.” Amber said “I read the Persian Wars section of Heroditus” and that this had helped her with Ancient History GCSE.

Amber wanted to make a more general point about how the reading she did for the Award changed the reading experience for her. “When I read now it is as though you experience the literature rather than just read it. You feel more involved in the plot.” Others talked about a sense of accomplishment they gained from completing difficult tasks on demanding texts. Hazel said “For the classic I read A Tale of Two Cities and there is a carriage journey at the start and I thought I was going to die. After I re-read it I got it and then I got into it.”

When talking generally about the Award, several of the group explained that they had enjoyed forming their own book group to read and discuss The Weight of Water. Michaela said that what she liked was that “a lot of it was down to interpretation” which again links with the idea that the Award helps to develop personal response. Several of the group particularly welcomed the opportunity to write a creative response to a text and felt that it deepened their relationship with the text. Kate felt that the work they did on the Award “definitely helped our English results” and Charlie agreed that it particularly helped to make the unseen passages in the exams seem less daunting. Hazel rounded off the discussion by saying that, whether or not the Award increased your knowledge “it increased your confidence”.

After this discussion I was keen to find out how the students who had worked through the Award had got on in their GCSEs. With help from the data manager, Harbans and I managed to pull together the KS2 English result, the GCSE English Language result and the overall GCSE points total for the two top sets in English last year; one that had been given the opportunity to work towards the Award and one that had not. Of the two classes, 37 had not completed any of the tasks, 13 had completed 8 and gained the bronze Award, 5 completed 12 tasks and gained silver and 4 completed all 16 tasks, gaining the gold level. So, clearly we are talking about very small group sizes. However, it is also clear from the graph below that the higher the Award level the students achieved, the higher their GCSE points total was on average. 

The next thing I looked at was how students with the same KS2 starting points did in their English GCSEs and in their GCSEs in general, depending on whether they engaged with the Award or not.

So we can see that in each KS2 prior attainment group (5A, 5B or 5C) the students who engaged with the Rooted in Reading Award (Y) clearly out-performed those who did not (N) in their GCSE English Language and their overall GCSE examinations.

National Literacy Trust research (see figure below) shows the vital importance of reading attitudes and enjoyment in helping drive up attainment in reading and the results of this very small piece of research would seem to support this view. Whilst it is beyond the scope of this work to isolate all the other factors that come into play in a young person’s life, as they progress from 11 to 16, that might have an impact on educational achievement, the numbers presented above suggest that it is certainly possible that the reading that students have to do in order to progress through the Rooted in Reading Award tasks can and does have a positive impact on both their specific outcomes in English Language and their outcomes in GCSEs generally.

Mapping the interrelationships of reading enjoyment, attitudes, behaviour and attainment. National Literacy Trust 2011

In their book Reading Reconsidered (2016), Lemov, Driggs and Woolway argue that there are four ideas which are central to driving up standards in reading. They describe these as “The Core of the Core” and they are: 1. Read harder texts 2. Close read texts rigorously and intentionally 3. Read more nonfiction more effectively 4. Write more effectively in direct response to texts.

The Rooted in Reading Award explicitly demands the reading of hard texts, including nonfiction, and its format encourages effective direct responses to texts, building students’ confidence to develop and express their own opinions. It would seem, from the students’ comments, that it also encourages close and rigorous reading. It is pleasing to see, in this data and the interview comments, that we might be on to something.

To find out more about Rooted in Reading please contact Steve Willshaw on Twitter @stevewillshaw or by through contact page on this website. You can order the Rooted in Reading passport here.

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