Speed and fluency as important as accuracy for good writing

Teaching primary school pupils to write and spell quickly as well as accurately is the basis for good writing, according to a new seven-step plan to help boost reading and writing skills for seven to 11 year olds.

Improving Literacy in Key Stage Two, published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today, reviews the best available research to offer schools and teachers practical recommendations on what makes great literacy teaching.

According to the evidence summarised in the guidance report, primary school pupils’ writing skills – including spelling, handwriting and typing –need to become automatic so that they can concentrate on the content of their writing. But while the key to becoming a fluent writer is regular and extensive practice, teachers must make sure that children remain engaged and motivated in improving their writing.

This forms one of seven evidence-based recommendations in today’s report, designed to support schools develop an effective literacy strategy for teaching seven to 11 year olds. A second recommendation focuses on how schools can develop their pupils’ language skills by encouraging them to read books aloud and have conversations with their friends about the texts. It also suggests they should ensure the children are engaging with a wide variety of media, texts and topics.

The other five recommendations are focussed on:

  • Supporting pupils’ reading skills by teaching strategies they can re-use.
  • Improving pupils’ understanding of different texts by getting them to clarify what they don’t understand.
  • Giving pupils a purpose and an audience to write for so that they can learn how, when and why different writing strategies are effective.
  • Using data on every child’s current capability to tailor teaching to their specific needs.
  • Giving children who are struggling to read and write additional support through high-quality one-on-one or small-group interventions.

The report will be sent to every primary school in England in the next week, along with Improving Literacy in Key Stage One, a guidance report currently online and containing eight-practical steps for boosting literacy in the first three years of primary school.

The recommendations from both reports are central to the EEF’s North East Primary Literacy Campaign, a five-year project and a £10m investment in the region, co-funded with Northern Rock Foundation. 880 primary schools in the North East will have the opportunity to work with local partners to use the guidance to improve their literacy teaching. Schools with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils will also receive direct funding to implement the most promising evidence-based literacy programmes. 

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

Good literacy skills provide the building blocks not just for academic success, but for fulfilling careers and rewarding lives. Yet despite our best efforts too many children, particularly those from poorer homes, are leaving primary school without reaching the levels in reading and writing they need to achieve.”

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

Children need to master the basic skills of writing fast and accurately if they are to write well. That’s a common sense message which is backed up by robust research

Teachers are inundated with information about different programmes and training courses to help boost the reading and writing skills of their pupils. There are thousands of studies too, most of which are presented in academic papers and journals. It can be difficult to know where to start.

The practical and evidence-based steps in our latest Guidance Report are based on the best research available. They’re designed to help primary schools navigate the wealth of information out there and give all their pupils – particularly those from the poorest backgrounds - the skills they need to succeed.

  • The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £80 million to 133 projects working with over 850,000 pupils in over 8,300 schools across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.