Leading literacy in primary schools


By Jo Gray
on 13 March, 2016

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Leading literacy in primary schools

Being a subject leader within a primary school is often the expectation.

To be an expert within that subject, to be inventive, to lead others and to drive continuously the subject forward, takes time, knowledge and skill. It can be a challenge, especially when there is little or no training available.

For literacy or English leads, the need to be competent in leading others and managing the largest of all primary curriculum areas across the school is something that requires dedication, organisation and a love for the subject. Time to do all this is often limited due to the demands of being a full-time class teacher, having other subjects to co-ordinate and having all the day-to-day commitments that go with working in schools. As a literacy and English consultant, I’ve put together this blog to provide you with a basic guide to assist with being an effective literacy leader.


The most important part of being an effective literacy leader is the quality of your own subject knowledge. Knowing what is new in this curriculum, knowing the difference between your passive and active verb sentences, knowing the spelling rules for plurals, knowing how many phonemes in a word; the vast list goes on - but with regular reading and attention to your own CPD, it is achievable.

Staying up-to-date

Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn provide some of the best sources of information for staying up-to-date and current both with the latest government initiatives and assessment regulations and with creative, innovative ideas for the classroom. By following just a couple of education experts, it can help you start to create new contacts and develop knowledge in an easy, affordable and ever growing way. My top Twitter tips (aside from myself @Jo_c_gray and @oneeducation) are follow @MichaelT1979 - a deputy headteacher who explains new DfE information in clear, precise and often humorous ways; and @PrimaryRocks1 - a collaboration of educators who host great educational discussions around different questions for an hour every Monday at 8pm.


Completing a full literacy audit in your school is one of the best ways to understand what is happening and what is still to do. Taking time to complete a book scrutiny, lesson observations, pupil interviews and looking at planning will all support a successful audit process, as will looking at the whole-school environment including resources. During audits it’s not uncommon for staff to become defensive unless you explain why you are doing it right from the start; for progress development (and for your own sanity) having the help from others is always better!

Whole-school curriculum

Do you know which year group introduces the term noun and which year group teaches letter names? Do you know the terminology used across the school in phonics? Do you know which class uses 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory' for their writing inspiration or how long classes spend on reading for pleasure each week? Do you know which classes are teaching spelling discretely and what is happening for guided reading? Chances are that you know lots of this and if you don't know you could guess, right? However, it is that guessing and miscommunication that can lead to gaps in children's education. If you don't have a clear view then neither will the teachers and this is when information gets missed from the curriculum.

Spending time on your whole-school curriculum and carefully looking at what each year group is actually taught will help identify gaps and inform you much more than the National Curriculum, because that will only tell you what should be taught, which, from experience, is often very different! Nouns may be taught in year two but exposure to the term could start in reception. Fronted adverbials may not be explicitly taught until year four but using this terminology when the opportunity arises from year two is an opportunity not to be missed.

Once you have a basic plan then involve your team during a staff meeting. Although staff should be clear about what you are doing and be given the opportunity to share thinking with you on an individual basis, it may be clearer and simpler to research what is being taught and when before involving staff as a whole. This is in order to minimise disruption and uncertainty. Finalise the information by putting it in a policy.

What else?

The list is endless. I have purposely avoided assessment and data in this blog as that in itself is a huge developmental area for all leaders this year. There are also areas such as DfE initiatives, involvement of governors, parental involvement, leader folders, and ensuring all children are engaged and inspired (events such as World Book Day are essential in doing this). These are key to continuing to keep literacy exciting, fresh and motivating for staff and children alike.

Where can I get more support?

On 17 March, One Education are hosting an English Leaders Network. I’ve written this half-day course to provide you with up-to-date information from the DfE, in particular around assessment. I’ll give you the resources to help with your school audits, policy writing, curriculum coverage and planning. Please do follow the link above for more information and to book on to the course.

Comment (1)

  • Louise Tavener avatar

    Louise Tavener

    Dear Jo,
    I'm returning to lead literacy after two years out. Previously I lead the talk for writing initiative and introduced read write ink for phonics. I need support in finding out what is best practice now and the best strategies used to promote the highest quality teaching and learning across the primary school. Please help! Kind regards,

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