Evidence for Learning: Literacy in schools

Literacy in schools

Evidence on literacy from the Teaching and Learning Toolkit alongside other supporting resources.

Language and literacy provide us with the building blocks not just for academic success, but for fulfilling careers and rewarding lives.

Language and literacy are grouped together in this theme as they are closely related. Language is especially important in the Early Years and it continues to be important through primary and secondary education. The science literature review conducted by the EEF found that students reading capability was the best predictor of later science achievement. We also know that a focus on language and literacy is especially important for students with English as an Additional Language.


High impact for very low cost based on very extensive evidence
Impact (months)
Read more about Phonics

The evidence suggests that children benefit from a balanced approach to literacy that includes a range of approaches. The emphasis of the different approaches will shift as children progress; effective diagnosis can help to identify priorities and focus teaching to ensure that it is efficient. Some of the most promising approaches that emerge from the evidence so far include:

  • Oral language interventions which focus on spoken language and verbal interaction in the classroom appear to benefit all students. Some studies show slightly larger effects for younger children and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A focus on oral language skills will have benefits for both reading and writing.
  • Phonics approaches – as part of a balanced approached – have been found to be effective in supporting younger students (4−7 year olds) to learn to read.
  • Reading comprehension strategies focus on learners’ understanding of the text. They teach a range of techniques that enable students to comprehend the meaning of what is written, such as inferring the meaning from context, summarising or identifying key points, using graphic or semantic organisers, developing questioning strategies, and monitoring their own comprehension and identifying difficulties themselves.

Schools should focus first on developing core classroom teaching strategies that improve the literacy capabilities of the whole class. With this in place, the need for additional support should decrease. Nevertheless, it is likely that a small number of students will require additional support — in the form of high-quality, structured, targeted interventions — to make progress. A number of evaluations of such programs have found promising results. A description of the common features of these programs is provided in E4L’s literacy guidance reports.