Last Updated: Monday, March 05, 2018

Closing the Literacy Gap in Dumfries and Galloway

What is this?

​A short-term, targeted intervention designed to accelerate progress in reading and writing and close the literacy gap. Based on high quality pedagogy, specially trained Learning Assistants deliver one-to-one coaching sessions, four times a week, for a period of eight weeks. This uses a book-based approach, with opportunities to read and write in every lesson.

Forty primary 2 children were supported by this intervention across eight different schools. The impact was carefully measured using both formative and standardised assessments. Parents were highly committed to supporting the programme and enjoyed sharing their children’s success. All pupils, parents and Learning Assistants were motivated by rapid progress and success.

Who is this for?

​This exemplar will be of use to practitioners, teachers, school leaders, learning assistants and others who are trying to close the literacy gap.

​Explore this exemplar

What was done?

What is ‘Closing the Literacy Gap’ Intervention?

  • It is based on well-researched and evidence-based closing the attainment gap research and pedagogy.
    · Guided by a Learning Framework that promotes a balanced, interconnected approach to improving the tools learners require to read and write fluently.
  • An intensive one-to-one, personalised literacy intervention that enables learners to make rapid progress in reading and writing.
  • It uses a book-based approach, with opportunities to read and write in every lesson.
  • Implements a range of teaching strategies that promote a coaching approach to the teaching of reading and writing.
  • High quality training is offered so that learning assistants can support reading and writing effectively.
  • Provides detailed, measurable evidence of progress and impact.

How does it work?

  • The school management team, class teacher and additional support for learning teachers identify learners who meet the criteria for Pupil Equity Funding and are likely to benefit from Closing the Literacy Gap intervention.
  • Standardised data is collected to evidence impact at the end the intervention.
  • The additional support for learning teacher administers a range of diagnostic assessments which inform starting points on the programme.
  • The intervention trainer models and supports the learning assistants as they acquire the coaching skills required to deliver the intervention.
  • Learning assistants provide a six to ten week block of four 45 minute one-to-one sessions per week, designed to accelerate progress.
  • Each session offers responsive, personalised coaching within a supportive framework.
  • Each learning session is also supported by a parent each night.
  • The additional support for learning teacher continually monitors progress and adjusts the lesson structure and pace to maximise outcomes.

Who would benefit most?

  • Any primary learner who is achieving below expectation in reading for his/her age-group, and has not yet attained a reading age of eight years.
  • Learners with a starting standardised score of above 85 make most progress.
  • Some older learners may benefit, but only after consultation with the lead coordinator.

Lesson Focus and Structure

Every lesson typically incorporates the following interconnected strands, each facilitating increasingly complex reading and writing skills.

  • Observation of unsupported reading - running record.
  • Decisions in relation to next steps in learning (informed by the above observation).
  • Coaching of new words or reading strategies.
  • Phonics practice —decoding and encoding.
  • Speed word practice - promoting morphemic strategies.
  • New reading - promoting a widening range of reading strategies with a slightly more difficult text.
  • Tricky word spelling practice.
  • Constructing and writing a sentence.

Success Factors

  • Balanced teaching approach that promotes interconnected reading and writing skills.
  • A carefully graded, sequential Learning Framework where success is measured in small steps and is easily achieved.
  • Ongoing assessments that inform next steps in learning and teaching.
  • Recognition that every child has a different learning preference and pace.
  • Working within each child’s own level of ‘easy difficulty’ (Zone of Proximal Development).
  • Coaching that is responsive to need, and nudges learning forwards, step-by-step.
  • Parents feel involved and share their children’s success.
  • Promotion of metacognitive and self-regulation strategies that ensure learners are more likely to continue to use their newly acquired skills independently beyond the intervention period.
  • High expectations and a determination to make a difference.


In August 2016, Nithsdale’s Additional Support for Learning Team was awarded Innovation Funding by the Scottish Government to develop an intervention programme that had been successfully closing, or narrowing, the literacy gap for many young learners at St Ninian’s Primary School for a number of years.

The approach is based upon pedagogy promoted by the Strathclyde University Chartered Teaching Closing the Literacy Gap module, but has been adapted to reflect the most recent research and pedagogy advice from Education Scotland. Its updated design also means that its delivery can now be supported by Learning Assistants.

The funding supported the enhancement of intervention resources so that it could be more easily shared with other schools. It also facilitated the collection of data required to provide a robust evidence base, demonstrating its potential impact on children’s progress in literacy and achievement.

The aim of the project was to:

  • Demonstrate how effectively the intervention accelerates progress in reading and writing, narrowing or closing the literacy gap for under-achieving Primary 2 children who experience socio-economic disadvantage.
  • ‘Package’ what was working so well in one particular school context.
  • Develop a professional development programme so that additional support for learning teachers and learning assistants in other schools could support the coaching of these reading and writing skills with improved knowledge and expertise.

What was the impact?

Impact on children’s progress and attainment in literacy

Learners involved in the intervention made remarkable gains in their reading age, averaging 14 months in only eight weeks. This compares with learners in the control group who made an average gain of two months in their reading age. The children’s average standardised scores in reading showed an improvement of 13 points. While learners in the control group made an average gain of only half a point. 24 learners ‘closed the literacy gap’ and 12 have significantly ‘narrowed’ it.

Enriching professional knowledge and practice

Two intervention trainers are now available to support future developments in schools across Dumfries and Galloway. Six Additional Support for Learning Teachers are now trained to strategically manage this literacy intervention across eight schools. These teachers work in several schools and are keen to cascade this training to support other staff to deliver it more widely across Dumfries and Galloway. A Senior Learning Assistant and 23 Learning Assistants now have the skills required to support its delivery. A Depute Head Teacher, who undertook full intervention training, is beginning to look at ways to adopt the pedagogy within the mainstream teaching of literacy.
Wider Impact
All 40 learners, their parents and their learning assistant tutors were motivated and excited by the rapid progress and success. There have been noticeable improvements in the children’s perceptions, mind-sets and personal engagement with improved learner confidence, behaviour and engagement in the curriculum.

Whilst the project focus group were Primary 2 learners who experienced socio-economic disadvantage, schools are already extending this. A further 23 children with additional support needs are now benefiting from the intervention. The participating schools are hoping to continue with the intervention with a focus on targeting pupils in relation to Pupil Equity Funding.

Parents as Active Partners in their Child’s Learning

A high level of parental engagement is encouraged through initial meetings, homework tasks, home/school diaries, invitations to take part in a lesson, and progress feedback meetings. 80% of parents fully engaged with the homework tasks for the full eight weeks and proudly reported how much they enjoyed sharing in their children’s success. 10% of the parents showed a slight waning of interest after week six. Only 4% of parents did not engage at all, and although their children still made very good progress, gains tended to be around 30% less than children from fully engaged families.

Parental feedback - favourite things about the project?

“Being more involved with L’s Learning and seeing how far he has come.”

“Being able to work closely with the school and see K’s progress.”

“Interacting more with my daughter and seeing how well she has achieved her goals every day.”

Improvement questions

  • Would this intervention help our school to close the literacy gap for targeted learners?
  • What capacity do we have in terms of teaching and support staff to implement this intervention in our school?
  • How could we sustain this intervention and ensure that children continue to make progress in their learning?


PDF file: Closing the Literacy Gap Intervention - Final report (811 KB)

PDF file: Closing the Literacy Gap - Primary Phase example (218 KB)