Alternative provision school in Leeds vows to turn tide for teen students with reading age of a six-year-old

An alternative provision which takes some of the city's most challenging youngsters after they have been taken out of mainstream school has revealed some of the unique tools it uses to get them back on track.

By Emma Ryan
Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 11:45 am

With some teenagers having the reading age of a six-year-old when they arrive at Southway Youth Hub, the Belle Isle based alternative provision has a task to change cultures and mindsets before it can even start to consider educational outcomes and results.

Under headteacher Andy Percival, the school has, since his appointment in October, made two schemes part of its curriculum which look to improve access and attitudes to reading and life skills.

The 'Resilience' programme, taught in other Rodillian Academy Trust schools, has been developed and adapted for students at Southway by teacher Alex Thompson and brought into classrooms two months ago.

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Teacher Alex Thompson is pictured with student Kozhyar Kadir on a resilience test.

A post box has been set up where students can post messages about what they feel is not right in their school life and in turn a success tree will be the place where messages about what went well can be left and the idea is that at the end of the term they can look back at how far they have progressed.

A resilience lesson is held every day and can feature cooking, PHSE, camping, juggling, playing music or a conversation about the safe use of social media. Each term has a different theme to base projects around which can teach about perseverance, problem-solving and team work.

Mr Thompson said: "We want to challenge the mindset that they have come in with, they think they have failed mainstream and that is why they are here but that is not the case. I am trying to get across that failure is part of life and success.

"We have also seen a massive improvement in maths, science and English by being in a good headspace and being able to self-regulate emotions and have self-motivation."

Teacher Jo Freeman pictured with student Maddie Canning-Sylvester.

By creating a better attitude to learning it means that teachers can start addressing other barriers to learning that many people take for granted.

Some of the pupils at Southway struggle with reading, in turn struggle to read and understand exam papers, having a knock on effect on results and grades.

Mr Percival said: "We have got kids that have a seven year reading delay and kids with a reading age of six being asked to access mainstream schoo. If we don't address this, then we have got a problem. They can't access GCSE papers, think 'what's the point' and misbehave. This is not the fault of mainstream school, but we have got a chance here to turn that around."

Southway had to put a case forward to install the Game Changers reading intervention programme set up by the National Literacy Trust. It uses football-themed activities, challenges, books and role-models such as Raheem Sterling and Rio Ferdinand to motivate and help students to read.

It is only used in 150 settings across England and Wales - of which Southway is one - and is spear-headed by English teacher Jo Freeman who said in her previous school just being able to read a text message was an issue for some pupils.

She said: "I could read when I started school but we take that for granted. It opens up such a massive world to people if they can read and access reading - even being able to read a bus time-table. It is a barrier to learning and we need to address it. We have done a great deal with Game Changers, but we have created an atmosphere for reading and a library in school and an environment where people feel secure and comfortable and want to read."