Jules Daulby, Driver Youth Trust’s Director of Education, explores why some learners are good at reading but struggle with spelling and invites schools to join a study to improve this problem in secondary schools.

For most, other than the odd word, spelling is unlikely to have ever caused a problem. For others, it can be quite a distressing difficulty which is exposed, particularly when they need to hand write without a spell checker or dictionary. This can mean that an articulate student suddenly uses a limited vocabulary when putting their thoughts down on paper just because they don’t know how to spell a word they would otherwise use.

Consider this handwritten note to school:

Example 1 

Example 2 


This is just one example of how vocabulary can narrow when spelling and grammar is a difficulty.

Transfer this into the classroom and there will be students with a wide vocabulary under-performing because they are playing it safe. Only using the vocabulary they are confident spelling. I once saw a teenager improve his written drama work by two grades just by allowing him to type with the spell checker on, the content of his writing became significantly better over-night.

What can secondary schools do about this? I would argue every teacher is a teacher of spelling. Regular reminders of phonics, syllables and vowel sounds in every subject could make all the difference. Including knowledge about the root of a word and any prefix/suffix will help all children, not just those who struggle to spell. There will be young people in your school whose writing does not seem commensurate with how they present orally in lessons. These students will benefit hugely from all teachers embedding the language of etymology and morphology into their teaching.

I’m arguing for universal provision here but for some of those with the largest discrepancy between their reading and spelling, a booster may also help.

To test this theory, Driver Youth Trust has designed 7 simple lessons covering the basics of spelling. It’s designed for students whose standardised score tests for reading and spelling reveal a discrepancy; average or above average for reading but much lower for spelling.

To confirm whether the approach works, we are now recruiting volunteer schools to trial the lessons.


Seven Steps to Spelling Success Evaluation

  • The evaluation will take place in the Autumn term of 2018
  • Schools will be sent a seven-lesson scheme of work in September 2018 to be implemented before the end of December 2018
  • We advise that the lessons are used as an intervention with a maximum of 10 students in Year 7, 8 or 9
  • The lessons can be led by teachers or higher level teaching assistants
  • We would like participating schools to collect standardised spelling scores before the lessons are used and at the end of the seven-lesson trial and share these, along with a small amount of additional information with DYT
  • We will also ask for teacher and pupil feedback via a short questionnaire


If you would like to participate, please register your interest here.


Ethical considerations

Our team has extensive experience of undertaking research in schools in England, in particular with groups who may be disadvantaged because of their special educational need and disability.

Confidentiality: All data collected will remain strictly confidential and this will be stressed to all DYT employees, their partners and suppliers who could be involved in the delivery, evaluation or dissemination of this work. All schools and participants will be assigned unique identification numbers, where appropriate, and used throughout the data analysis process and reporting. This approach will be in keeping with DYT’s internal policies, including the confidential management of data, as well as any internal policies of the school setting. In the field, during interviews or other follow-up contact we will outline how we will achieve confidentiality and anonymity to our research participants. In addition, when undertaking any activities relating to students in the school setting we will ensure that these are conducted in a discrete manner so as not to make an individual child stand out.

Obtaining informed consent: We will ensure that all participants – adults and students – receive structured and age-appropriate information about the purposes and procedures of the research. These will be made available in accessible format where necessary. Schools will be responsible for ensuring that the agreement of young people, as well as consent of parents/carers, is sought in line with their own policies and/or procedures.

Working with children: Members of the team have significant experience of working with and conducting research in schools and with children. Children with SEND are central to our focus and we will ensure that we conduct our identification surveys in a sensitive manner drawing on the latest approaches in the field. All our survey instruments, assessment tools and qualitative research tools will be suitably adapted for full participation of all children. While we intend to include children with different types of SEND, we acknowledge that it will most likely be children with specific difficulties with spelling, such as dyslexia or speech, language and communications needs who are most likely to be identified for support.

Safeguarding: DYT takes safeguarding seriously and will ensure all members of the team adhere to our internal policies and those of the setting, including safer recruitment practices, enhanced disclosures and appropriate supervisory practices.