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Small group reading shown to boost pupil progress

A trial scheme which sees primary school children reading in small groups has shown that the programme can help pupils to make an additional two months’ progress during the course of an academic year.

Children and teacher looking at a book
The small group reading trial showed positive outcomes for the primary-aged pupils

The ABRACADABRA (ABRA) and Reading and Understanding in Key Stage 1 (RUKS) programme involved more than 4,000 Year 1 pupils (age 5-6) from 157 schools across the West Midlands, East Midlands, Newcastle, Teesside and Manchester.

Funded by the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), schools took part in a 20-week trial in which two versions of the ABRA-based RUKS programme were tested: an ICT-based model and a paper-based model, while some participating schools were assigned to a control group and carried on their usual approach to teaching literacy.

The content for both forms of the programme came from the ABRACADABRA software developed by a team at Concordia and McGill University in Canada. The resources for the paper-based version were adapted by a team from Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and Coventry University, who also developed the 20-week RUKS programme for both versions using the ABRA content.

Using a train-the-trainer model, the team trained teachers and teaching assistants to deliver four reading-based sessions per week to small groups of four to five pupils, and then monitored the delivery.

These fifteen-minute sessions consisted of decoding (including phonics), fluency and comprehension activities drawn from age-appropriate texts.

An independent evaluation by the York Trials Unit, University of York, and Durham University – released in an EEF report (link) - found that children who received either version of the programme made some additional progress on measures of decoding and phonics compared with pupils in the control group.

However, of the two models of delivery, the paper-based approach proved to be the most effective – children who received this version made up to two months’ additional progress in reading.

The programme was well-received by delivery schools, with staff reporting that they felt well supported to implement the programme.

Both versions of the ABRA-based RUKS programme first showed promise when tested in a smaller scale EEF-funded trial completed in January 2015, involving 1884 pupils from 60 English schools.

Janet Vousden, principal investigator on the project and senior lecturer in Psychology at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “It is very encouraging to see the results of this trial. They suggest that the programme can be scaled up as a train-the-trainer model with similar positive outcomes for children.”

Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “We have so much to gain from education research and rigorously examining the impact of teaching and learning programmes.

“These findings are a prime example - offering practitioners a tried and tested option to consider when looking to develop their approach to reading provision for Key Stage 1 pupils.

“However, it is of the utmost importance that educators have the means to implement evidence-informed programmes and maximise the impact of their practice.

“As school energy and food costs increase, it is vital that they are not forced to direct resources away from the things which the evidence shows are likely to make the biggest difference.”

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    The Education Endowment Fund

    The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust, as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus, with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded Modern University of the Year 2023 (Times and Sunday Times), Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards). It was the University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with over 33,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 4,000 and an NTU community representing around 160 countries.

    In the past 15 years, NTU has invested £450 million in tools, technology and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2019 UCAS UG acceptance data) It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    75% of NTU students go on to graduate-level employment or graduate-entry education / training within fifteen months of graduating (Guardian University Guide 2021).

    NTU is 4th globally (and 3rd in the UK) for sustainability in the 2021 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 22 September 2022
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences