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10 Years On: The Impact of Reading Recovery

New research shows that early intervention can have a lasting effect on children’s literacy – helping to close the disadvantage gap, explains Dr Susan Bodman...

  • 10 Years On: The Impact of Reading Recovery

We all know that getting a good education is key to opportunities later in life. Those who finish their schooling without recognised qualifications in English and maths often struggle to access further study and well-paid work.

This is particularly likely to affect disadvantaged pupils, with the majority of 19 year-olds who received free school meals leaving education without a good standard of qualifications in English and maths.

The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is already evident on starting school, growing to on average a gap of 9.5 months by the end of primary school. For disadvantaged pupils struggling to learn literacy, the gap may be in years rather than months. 

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) reports that the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils continues to widen at every stage of education. The gap has proved resistant to change.

Pupil Premium funding directed specifically to pupils in disadvantage has had limited impact, with significant numbers of pupils leaving school without attaining the five or more good GCSEs that act as a threshold for returns to our national economy and equally important, an individual’s life chances.

Promising progress

However, new research has shown that there is a way that schools can effectively and efficiently use the resources they have (both financial and human) to maximum effect.

Investing in an early intervention programme like Reading Recovery has the potential to produce long-term impacts on children’s lives (Hurry & Fridkin, 2018).

Researchers tracked the progress of children who took part in Reading Recovery at six until they were 16. Compared to a control group of similarly low-attaining children who did not receive Reading Recovery, targeted pupils were:

  • More than twice as likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs including English and mathematics: 49% vs 23% in the comparison group
  • Less likely to leave school with no qualifications: 2% vs 7% in the comparison group
  • Performing only 5% below the national average at age 16 in GCSEs, despite having been in the bottom 10% of readers at age six
  • Requiring no intensive special-needs support (a Statement or ECHP), while 10% of the comparison group had a Statement or EHCP at age 14, and 9% at age 16

A third group of children in the same schools as the Reading Recovery pupils were assessed but not admitted to Reading Recovery.

They were typically given small group provision instead as part of the wider ECAR programme and were not part of the matched control design.

They also did significantly better than the comparison group at GCSE, although not as well as the children who received Reading Recovery. 

The suggestion from Professor Stephen Gorard from Durham University that the boost could have been the effect of the school intervention is endorsed by Jane Hurry, one of the report’s authors.

The findings do suggest that a Reading Recovery teacher’s expertise to enhance literacy tuition for weaker readers has wider benefits throughout the school, not just for targeted pupils.

Lasting impact

Reading Recovery is targeted at children with the most complex problems in reading and writing. Pupils are screened at around the age of six using a range of assessments designed to identify those who are not beginning to develop the appropriate skills.

They receive daily, one-to-one, half-hour lessons with a highly-trained teacher for between 12 and 20 weeks.

Since Reading Recovery was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1990, data have been collected and analysed for each of the 200,887 children served.

Short-term impact is reported annually with just over eight out of 10 pupils catching up with their peers, resulting in age-expected progress.

Whilst we don’t know what each of these children attained on leaving school at age 16, studies which looked at attainment at age 11 demonstrate that almost six out of 10 pupils who completed Reading Recovery at age-expected levels of attainment were still operating at age-expected or above at the end of Key Stage 2, indicative of the long-lasting effect of the intervention. 

We know that there is a significant correlation between how pupils attain at Key Stage 2 when they are 11 and how they attain at Key Stage 4, when they are 16.

The EEF report stated that in the 2016 GCSE cohort, 89% of pupils attaining at the expected standard at KS2 attained at least a C grade in English and maths.

Combined with the findings of Hurry and Fridkin (2018), this correlation provides grounds for optimism that the pupils receiving Reading Recovery at age six and attaining at or above age related expectations at age 11 will have been amongst those achieving five or more good GCSEs including English and maths.

A different approach

Why is Reading Recovery different? Teachers are trained to identify the precise reasons for slow progress and adjust the teaching programme to the needs of each individual.

The broad-based approach focused on text reading and writing means that pupils whose literacy learning is hampered by poor phonological awareness, linked to dyslexia, speech and language needs or a history of hearing loss can all be helped.

These trained teachers are skilled at finding ways around these problems and will address weak oral language skills, often linked to home background.

Intervention provides language-rich sessions that support comprehension and reading for meaning, having an impact on confidence, behaviour, engagement and learning across the curriculum; when run as part of a whole school approach, Reading Recovery can have a wider benefit, reaching out across the school.


Accredited Reading Recovery Teachers work with 4 Reading Recovery pupils daily, delivering half-hour sessions to each pupil and with some additional time for assessment and planning.

Children benefit from the 45 hours of individual tuition of average, many progressing to age-related expectations more quickly.

Initial training costs are £2,980 per teacher. Ongoing professional development thereafter to maintain programme fidelity and support quality implementation, costs £1,044 annually. Start-up resource costs are around £500. 


Dr Susan Bodman is National Lead for Reading Recovery (ucl.ac.uk/reading-recovery-europe/reading-recovery).

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