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What works and what fails? Evidence from seven popular literacy ‘catch-up’ schemes for the transition to secondary school in England.

Gorard, S. and Siddiqui, N. and See, B.H. (2017) 'What works and what fails? Evidence from seven popular literacy ‘catch-up’ schemes for the transition to secondary school in England.', Research papers in education., 32 (5). pp. 626-648.


There are concerns that too many young people, from disadvantaged backgrounds, are moving into secondary education in the UK, and elsewhere, without the necessary literacy skills to make progress with the wider secondary school curriculum. A large number of interventions have been proposed to reduce this poverty gradient. This paper summarises the evidence from randomised controlled trials of seven popular interventions, giving a different comparative perspective to individual reports, and permitting more detail than a wider review. Of these, it shows that Switch-on Reading (Reading Recovery) and Accelerated Reader, for example, are currently the most promising. And that summer schools and the use of generic literacy software are the least successful and may even harm pupil progress. The way in which the evidence is assessed in this paper suggests a way forward for practitioners and policy-makers navigating the evidence in their areas of interest. There is also evidence that practitioners should be able to conduct robust evaluations of their own with only minimal support, which could lead to a revolution in school improvement. The combined results suggest that ‘soft’ evaluations may be worse than just a waste of time and money, and that theoretical explanations might appear satisfying to readers but are largely unnecessary when assessing ‘what works’ in education.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Research Papers in Education on 25/08/2016, available online at:
Date accepted:25 July 2016
Date deposited:26 July 2016
Date of first online publication:25 August 2016
Date first made open access:25 February 2018

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