Reading at Birley

‘Nothing is more important in education than ensuring that every child can read well.’

Reading: the next steps
Supporting higher standards in schools
DfE March 2015

Reading is one of the greatest indicators of success in all GCSE examinations. It is for this reason that it can be deemed as the ‘master skill of secondary school’. Reading for pleasure is the single biggest factor in success in later life, outside of an education. Alongside academic success, reading a broad and varied body of literature will help your child to expand their understanding of themselves, others, and the wider world around them, helping them to forge connections and undertake meaningful new-growth experiences as they mature.

Learning new vocabulary and seeing it used in different contexts as they read will help them to develop their reading ability. In turn, this helps them to become more proficient writers and speakers. They will also gain knowledge from what they read which, in turn, will help them to become more proficient.

As their reading ability grows, and the cognitive demands of reading are lessened, they will begin to think more carefully about what it is they are reading for pleasure and for academic purposes.  

At The Birley Academy, we are determined that all students will become proficient readers and flourish as life-long readers. This is our pledge to them.  

LEAD – to show students, by example, how reading is a fundamental life skill and that, through reading, we open doors and new-growth experiences which enhance our understanding of the world. 

EMPOWER – to empower students to see text as a vehicle to help build knowledge, for enjoyment and for academia. To provide students with access to a wide range of literature that enables them to read to learn and read for pleasure.

ACHIEVE – to believe that all students flourish as life-long readers by providing appropriate teaching instruction to those who need it and to stretch the horizons of all students at the academy by using text as a vehicle to acquire knowledge.

DRIVE – to evaluate, monitor and reflect upon the reading offer at the academy, so that we can continuously drive for improvements.

All students in Years 7 to 9 complete a New Group Reading Test (NGRT), which is a standardised reading test once per academic year. This test provides us with important information about your child’s current reading ability. This means that we can quickly identify if your child needs additional support with their reading as well as help to strengthen overall reading habits.  

For students who need additional reading support, we use a range of fine-grain assessments to pinpoint their specific reading needs and to tailor individual support. These tests are completed on a 1:1 basis with one of our Reading Specialists. This includes the York Assessment for Reading Comprehension (YARC), Probe 2 Blue as well as the assessments included with the reading programmes outlined below. 

We use a variety of research-based intervention packages to support those students who need it. Students are allocated to a particular programme depending on how well they have performed in their NGRT and fine-grain assessments. These programmes are delivered by our Reading Specialists or Teaching Assistants. All of those delivering have been through intense training to ensure fidelity to the programmes.

A snapshot of the programmes that we use, along with links to further information can be found below.

Thinking Reading – Starting April 2024

Thinking Reading is a whole-school strategy with an intensive, one-to-one intervention at its heart. Our practice is built upon the synthesis of well-evidenced teaching methods with decades of research evidence to support them. In addition to consulting with school leaders and training to build teachers’ knowledge, we publish the resources needed for this intensive teaching, along with a 10-part lesson plan that ensures individualisation of each precise step in a clear, easy-to-use format.

We use our extensive experience in literacy, teacher development and leadership to help schools develop coherent literacy strategies with maximum impact. We also provide ongoing advice and guidance to schools in order to help solve specific learning or teaching issues, to maximise progress, and to link teachers and tutors in a professional community.

Find out more information here: Thinking Reading

That Reading Thing – Age-Appropriate Phonics 

You won’t find a better reading method for teens and adults. TRT is fun but satisfying, challenging but safe and fast. It is evidence-based and externally assessed by Professor Greg Brooks. Students work from sound to print using age-appropriate vocabulary and real reading material. The method has its roots in linguistic phonics but has grown its own way of working with older learners for the fastest possible results.

Find out more information here: That Reading Thing

Mature Reading Instruction 

Mature Reading Instruction provides students with additional opportunities to further develop accurate decoding and in-depth comprehension through a variety of stories from around the world. Students who are part of Mature Reading Instruction receive two or three 50-minute lessons each week with a dedicated reading specialist. Group sizes are no more than 8 students. 

Find more information here: MRI Books | Piper Books | Books for Children, Teenagers and Adults Learning to Read 

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) is a peer tutoring strategy that can be incorporated into a literacy curriculum to improve fluency, decoding, and comprehension. In PALS, students are divided into pairs and alternate between the role of the tutor and tutee. Each student takes a turn reading aloud, listening to his/her partner read, and providing systematic feedback to each other. Students are trained to use partner reading, paragraph shrinking, and predication relay during PALS.

Find out more information here: What is PALS? | The Fuchs Research Group (

All staff at the academy recognise that they are ‘teachers of reading’. They aim to nurture and grow students’ love of reading through Tutor Time Reading sessions. In these sessions, students in Years 7-9 enjoy a 30-minute reading session of guided, class-reading led by their tutor three times per week.  

The aim of these sessions is to foster a love of reading, by exploring a range of texts that widens their exposure to exciting and diverse literature. It also helps students to find out more about themselves, others and the wider the world around them. In addition, it offers students the opportunity to read literature that is not being read as part of a curriculum outcome, helping to promote the idea of simply reading for pleasure.

Texts are chosen based on their complexity, both in ideas and composition. This is so that we can match texts to a students’ reading ability. We work closely with the Schools Library Service, who offer advice on current reading material that is popular and appropriately challenging for students in each year group. This is so that material is refreshed regularly and kept relevant. 

During these sessions, teachers read the text aloud, so that students are exposed to fluent, modelled reading. Students have their own copies of the text, so that they can track the text closely. We find that this approach helps to develop students’ fluency, as they hear experts read, which in turn helps to strengthen their reading proficiency.

Miss Suzanna McMillan – Reading and Handwriting Lead
[email protected]

Mr Wesley Devoe – Reading Specialist
[email protected]

Miss Lucy Flaherty – Reading Specialist
[email protected]