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      Case study: developing disciplinary literacy in History

      Bohunt Education Trust in partnership with DYT

      Bohunt Education Trust (BET) is a family of schools, most of which are in South-East England. Our students develop into ‘game-changers’ through highly effective teaching, a culture of high expectations, and unparalleled curricular and co-curricular opportunities. Our approach is summed up by our motto: enjoy, respect, achieve.

      We are determined that every child has the same chance to fulfil their potential. This is the focus of our Virtual School, which is dedicated to improving outcomes for all disadvantaged students across the Trust. Raising literacy standards is fundamental to this work. Leadership teams in all schools in the Trust have been working together to develop literacy teaching, and subject directors have been developing disciplinary literacy across the Trust.

      One of the most exciting aspects of this work has been BET History team’s collaboration with Driver Youth Trust (DYT). Together, we have developed a new approach to disciplinary literacy in History in our schools.

      Students with low levels of literacy face multiple challenges in History

      Reading is a core activity in the vast majority of lessons, and historical texts are laden with a diverse range of Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary. Written GCSE answers need to be highly structured, displaying a mixture of detailed historical knowledge and analytical skills. Students are presented with unseen sources and historical interpretations in their exam, which they need to swiftly read, interpret, and analyse. The reading age of GCSE historical sources can vary from 16-19 years, hardly ideal for students who are below age expectations.

      The vocabulary used is often complex and highly period-specific, requiring detailed historical context. Students might wonder what a ‘Papal Bull’ is, or who a ‘royal clerk’ might be. Substantive concepts mean different things depending on the period in question: a reference to ‘Parliament’ means something very different in the 1640s, 1830s and 1940s, for example.

      At the most intermediate level, making sure that students can access and understand the texts they are reading has a transformative effect on student motivation.

      We began working with DYT in autumn 2020. It was a challenging time to start a new project, with schools reopening after the pandemic, and facing all the challenges of recovery. However, we were clear that this work was too important to leave until later. The buy-in from the History teams across the Trust has been superb throughout, and we quickly began to see the benefits in our classrooms.

      The steps we have undertaken with DYT so far are:

      Identifying the main literacy focus

      After extensive discussions with our DYT Consultant, Ruth, and a self-assessment by all Heads of History in the Trust in which they mapped their departments’ strengths and areas for development against the EEF framework, we decided that reading would be our focus.

      Providing bespoke CPD for all History teachers

      DYT developed two sessions for reading in History: one on the science of reading, and one on reading fluency. Each session was specific to History, using exemplar texts and sources. The guidance was evidence-based, drawing on academic research and Ruth’s own extensive classroom experience.

      Deploying intensive DYT support in two schools

      These were schools where literacy had been identified as a priority for whole-school improvement. Our DYT Consultant spent a day in each school, gave detailed feedback, and revisited six months later to repeat the process.

      Conducting a literacy review by our Heads of Department

      Two months after the CPD with DYT, Heads of Department repeated their self-assessment, based on literacy learning walks and discussions with their department. The self-assessment was then done at a Trust level, based on observations by the Subject Director and Lead Practitioner, and a synthesis of departmental assessments. This led to us widening our focus to include oracy and structured talk.

      Developing literacy improvement plans

      Heads of Department were given a framework to identify their top priorities in (1) adapting classroom practice, (2) developing literacy resources, and (3) increasing the number and range of challenging texts. Priorities were informed by DYT’s training, but were highly specific to their school and students’ context.

      Sharing best practice across the Trust

      Expert teachers of oracy and literacy from different schools in the Trust shared their practice with the rest of the History team at an online ‘Teach Meet’. High quality lesson resources and texts were shared, allowing History teachers to benefit from being part of a large and diverse team.

      Dedicating Trust INSET time to develop reading and oracy in departments

      Heads of Department allocated specific tasks to team members to work on individually or in small groups, to make progress on their literacy priorities.

      Developing the teaching of literacy is a complex and evolving process

      We are excited to see how this project develops over the next year. Our staff now have a sound understanding of quality first literacy teaching. Students benefit from hearing teachers read texts aloud expertly. Tier 2 and 3 words are preloaded before reading tasks, and we are building oracy into our lessons so that classrooms are filled with high quality talk. Students are being exposed to a greater range of challenging texts from a diverse range of sources and are being taught to read them fluently.

      The impact on engagement, motivation and confidence is already evident. We look forward to further work with Driver Youth Trust as we continue to implement exceptional literacy teaching for our wonderful young people, whose curiosity and enthusiasm are so clear in every one of our unique schools.


      Written by Rowena Hammal, Director of History at Bohunt Education Trust

      Bring DYT into your school or trust

      If our collaboration with Bohunt Education Trust has inspired you, please get in touch: Whatever challenges your school or Trust is facing in improving literacy or SEN support, our team of consultants can help you think about your next steps, enhance your pedagogical practice, and work with you to create lasting impact that is inclusive of all of your learners.

      Through our evidence-based consultancy pathways, we can support your school or Trust in the following areas:

      • Carrying out a thorough literacy difficulties audit
      • Classroom practice review
      • Analysing learner outcomes
      • Primary teaching and learning
      • Secondary teaching and learning


      You will receive clear and concise plans of action with any in-school support from DYT. Our  team of consultants will signpost you to freely available DYT resources and classroom strategies that you can implement immediately.