Pool Academy were earlier this year nominated for the award of ‘Mental Health Initiative of the Year 2022’ by the Times Education Supplement and also published on the National Literacy Institute’s website as a case study.
After reading the ‘Hot Topic – Children’s mental health’ and ‘Mental wellbeing, reading and writing’ resources, it became clear that using reading to support children’s mental health needed to be integral to Pool Academy’s literacy strategy.
Pool Academy is a smaller than average sized secondary academy in Cornwall, receiving its pupils from a large number of primary schools in the Camborne and Redruth area. Like in all other schools, their students’ mental well being has been impacted negatively by the national lockdowns and this, coupled with the literacy impact of months of lost teaching, has led to them re-evaluating their literacy programmes.
Pool Academy has always received pupils with a full range of abilities: from those with high prior attainment to those who enter secondary school with prior attainment levels well below the standard expected at the close of Year 6. They also receive a number of pupils who have performed well in Year 6 SATs but still record reading ages well below their chronological age at the beginning of Year 7. In addition, a large number of their students come from some of the wards with the highest deprivation indexes in the UK and homes without books. Pool Academy believe in tackling both literacy and mental wellbeing issues quickly, before pupils risk becoming disaffected or disengaged with a secondary curriculum that they struggle to access and the urgency in raising reading ages has increased with the higher literacy demands of the new GCSEs.
Throughout the second period of distance learning they had run a successful online shared reading programme for their year 7 cohort. Taking place during English lessons, students were sent copies of class novels and using school owned iPads, read the novels as a class over a video link. Student engagement was extremely high and parents were positive about the initiative. Data gathered via Star Reading Assessments showed sustained increases in reading ages over a number of months.
|Group (students tested in Sep and Jan/Feb||Mean Normed Reference Standardised Score (NRSS)||Increase / Decrease in mean NRSS
Sep to Feb
They decided to use this successful trial as a model for a KS3 literacy and mental health and wellbeing tutor reading programme which needed to achieve certain objectives.
Their literacy lead first worked with the pastoral team and PSHE lead to identify the key mental health and well being requirements specific to each year group. These were:
Following this process, they chose novels which were age appropriate, engaging and would cover relevant themes. See below
|Year 7||Year 8||Year 9||Year 10|
|Cycle 1||Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan||Trash, Andy Mulligan
|The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness||Hatchet, Gary Paulsen|
|Cycle 2||The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave||Welcome to Nowhere, Elizabeth Laird
|Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk
|The Call, Peadar O’Guilin
|Cycle 3||When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr||One, Sarah Crossan||The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon
|Boy Proof, Cecil Castellucci
The strategy involves all tutors reading with their groups for two thirty minute sessions a week and then spending a further 30 minute session using discussion slides to explore the themes raised each week. In order to support tutors and to ensure that this is a whole school endeavour, each tutor has been paired with another member of staff who works with them during tutor sessions. These paired tutors include admin staff, our reprographics manager and finance officer, leading to a real feel of an academy united in the desire to develop literacy for all.
Teachers participated in a session prior to the launch of the programme to prepare them for the new approach and most have been very positive, as it enables them to build stronger relationships with their tutor groups.
This project is meeting our expectations in many ways and is exceeding them in others. Student engagement is high and the numbers who actively seek to read out loud is increasing, reading data shows progress which is pleasing and initial observations suggest that students are confident discussing sensitive real world issues through the perspective of fictional characters
In addition, it is important to note that, freed from the constraints of the English curriculum, students have engaged with a range of topical and inspiring young adult fiction in a way that has overcome some initial concerns raised by staff and students.