SAfE Primary English Conference 2022

David Didau kickstarted our Primary English Conference this year to address Surrey’s key priority in improving writing outcomes.

Sentence structure is a barrier to writing attainment: During his informative session on supporting children’s writing, David Didau delved into children’s understanding of sentence structure and how this can be a barrier to writing. He referred to recent findings by Daisy Christadoulou into what students found easy and difficult about writing. She found that pupils that are not secure in their understanding of sentence fragments are likely to have a writing age 12 months behind their peers that have a secure understanding of all components of a simple sentence. He explained how No More Marking ‘Writing Hub’ has created guidance and resources to support teachers to develop their understanding.

Couch to 5k approach to teaching writing: He then promoted a ‘Couch to 5K’ approach to writing in primary schools, encouraging pupils to write less for longer to avoid embedding errors. David was clear on both the importance of scaffolds and the necessity to remove these as children make progress. In addition, he explained the slow writing process and how this can be used to embed a variety of sentence types to support all pupils. He advocated the approach used by his academy trust, Ormiston, in which sentence types are explicitly taught, practised to the point of mastery and then retrieved regularly to be used when writing across the whole curriculum.

Proofreading: To support writing, David recommends promoting proofreading rather than marking. Children are asked to draft rather than write and only give the work to the teacher when they feel it is excellent.

Vocabulary application: David also promoted the importance of vocabulary and teaching new words through a ‘Say it, Spell it, Know it’ approach to provide opportunities to practise new words and understand them in context.

Talk for writing: Finally, David spent time focusing on the importance of talk as the main intervention to support writing. Using thought stems, children develop the technical language required and are scaffolded to answer academic questions verbally before attempting to write them.

In conclusion, be aware of what pupils need to know to write well, ensure sentence level mastery, make proofreading a habit, teach vocabulary using explicit instruction and intervene at the point of speech. Using these strategies is sure to have an impact on the attainment of all pupils but especially those who are disadvantaged which we know is high on all our priorities

Jean Gross opened our afternoon session by asking us to ‘Meet Jason’, a fictional child, but nonetheless one we should all identify as a child we have once taught or sat in our class right now.

Jean reminded us that those children who struggle to read are likely to have multiple barriers effecting their learning. These problems can stem from home background, genetic links (where families have a history of weak reading for example) and lack of motivation or self-belief.

So how did she suggest we do better for these children? Many of them need a multi-faceted approach in order to access the skills needed to read and more specifically to acquire the vocabulary needed to understand what they read. To fully understand everything Jean has to say, I would suggest you read her book ‘Reaching the Unseen Children’.

My key takeaways were:
Over-learning and repetition: Children with weak language skills benefit from repeated reading of the same book. They are more likely to acquire new vocabulary if they see it in the same context multiple times than if they see it in different contexts.
Vocabulary: Children need direct teaching of carefully selected ‘Goldilocks’ words. They will need to explore around the word in order to add it to their long-term memory: this may include sound association, illustration, structure (morphemes) and categorization.
Self-efficacy: This is ‘the most important chapter in the book’ according to Jean and was the most powerful part of her talk. If children do not believe they can succeed then there is a high chance they won’t. Self-efficacy is about believing that the changes you make effect your life and therefore the effort you make to learn is down to you and in your control.

Every child deserves the opportunity to do more and do better. It’s up to us to help get them there. Jean’s thoughts are a step in the right direction.

Lauren Meadows ended our successful conference posing the question ‘How do you know that your Reading provision is working well?’

She explained how the limitations of ‘legacy practices’, such as tracking coverage and looking at books in isolation, used to evaluate the impact of a school’s curriculum can lead to a false sense of competency and that our reading provision cannot be singularly judged by reading attainment in statutory tests because it is complex and broad.

Her evidence led-approach outlined in her book Pupil Book Study: Reading, identifies the following core elements of great reading provision and how this approach looks at all aspects of the reading diet and allows leaders to translate their findings directly into developing their classroom practice. She then shared an audio clip of her reading with pupils with the specific focus of exploring how pupils approach unfamiliar words when reading and to ascertain the impact of the school’s teaching of ‘vocabulary attack stategies’.

She then shared an audio clip of her reading with pupils with the specific focus of exploring how pupils approach unfamiliar words when reading and to ascertain the impact of the school’s teaching of ‘vocabulary attack stategies’.

The example illustrated perfectly how using these evaluative approaches can allow leaders to focus on the impact of their actions and further refine practice. The SAfE team are inspired to build these into our repertoire when supporting schools to evaluate their reading provision. If you would like to book one of the Teaching and Learning Team to work with your school, please contact

Thank you to the following organisations and companies that provided goodies for participants at the conference:

Usborne @Usborne
Guppy Books @guppybooks
The Federation of Children’s Book Groups @FCBGNews
Surrey Libraries @SurreyLibraries
Nosy Crow @NosyCrow
Harper Collins (Davina Brimah) @HarperCollinsUK
Oxford University Press (Janice Ryan) @OvUniPress

Further Reading
Beck, I., Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction
Hochman, J.C, Wexler, N, The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades

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