Kyle Turakhia shares research highlights about Game Changers – our reading programme for excluded students
Game Changers is a bespoke reading programme for ‘excluded’ students. These are young people who have been removed from mainstream classrooms – most often due to long-term behavioural challenges. 
The National Literacy Trust designed Game Changers with two key objectives in mind:
- To improve excluded students’ attitudes to reading.
- To build excluded students’ reading ability.
We did this because we believe all young people have the right to the pleasure and empowerment of reading. We also knew that excluded students face disproportionate literacy challenges. As IntegratEd has highlighted, for example, just 4% of excluded students pass their English and maths GCSEs compared to 64% in the mainstream sector.
Over the past two years, we have worked with over 170 teachers to run and evaluate Game Changers. In the process, we have reached over 1200 excluded students in 85 schools across England and Wales – including pupil referral units (PRUs) and other kinds of alternative provision (AP) settings.
We are now in a position to release results from our evaluation – which explore the successes and opportunities of Game Changers in detail. Highlights include the findings that:
- More than twice as many young people say they enjoy reading after completing Game Changers compared to before (27% vs. 13%).
- One in two (56%) students who start below expected level in reading catch up over the course of our 20 sessions.
This blog will explore research findings against our key objectives in more detail.
You can also visit our Game Changers page to learn more about how the programme works, and how you can run it with your own students who have been excluded, or are at risk of exclusion.
I enjoyed it because it was based on topics I liked and enjoyed.Pupil
I don't give compliments lightly - I've been teaching for almost 30 years and have seen a lot of good and not so good resources - and I'm very impressed indeed with this.Teacher
In order to assess the impact of Game Changers on pupils’ reading skills, they were asked to complete a reading test before and after taking part in the programme. Pre- and post-test data were analysed for 55 pupils.
Results showed that the programme was beneficial for those with the lowest reading skills and those with SEN.
- When we focused on those with reading skills below expected level (n= 25), we saw their standardised scores increasing, with 56% (n= 14) of these pupils having caught up and reached the expected level in their reading skills by the end of the programme.
- When exploring the reading skills of particularly pupils with special educational needs (SEN; n= 32), we saw standardised scores increasing over the course of the programme. Looking at those 22 SEN pupils who started below expected level in reading, more than half (55%; n= 12) had caught up and reached the expected level in reading ability.
I was happy to see the quick progress they made particularly in inference skills.Teacher
In addition to the skills data, findings from surveys indicated that teachers noticed improvements in their students’ reading ability; while students themselves grew in confidence.
- Three in five pupils (62%) felt they were better at reading after taking part in Game Changers.
- 64% of teachers indicated that they had noticed an improvement in pupils’ reading skills.
- 98% of the teachers felt that students became familiar with three core reading skills (looking, inferring and thinking) and that using the core reading skills helped students to comprehend texts.
They have managed to forge links between what we do in Game Changers and tasks they do in other subjectsTeacher
The main change that I have seen from the students has been their increase in confidence.Teacher
Attitudes to reading
We surveyed 128 pupils about how their attitudes to reading had changed through Game Changers; as well as 66 teachers about changes they noticed in their groups.
- 84% of pupils said they now think being able to read is important, and 46% that reading is cool.
- 62% of pupils felt there are more things they want to read, and 44% that they want to read more now.
- 96% of teachers felt that over the course of the programme, pupils learnt reasons to read.
You can learn all the differences in people lifes [sic] and understand you can be [successful] in life if [you] try really hard even if you didn't have everything you needed as a childPupil
It was exciting to show them that reading can and should be relevantTeacher
In the same surveys, we dug deeper into students’ reading enjoyment and found:
- 34% of pupils reported starting to enjoy reading more over the course of taking part.
- More specifically, 27% of pupils said they enjoy reading very much or quite a lot after taking part in the programme, in contrast to 13% before taking part. This indicates that the percentage of pupils who enjoy reading more than doubled over the course of the programme.
- More than half of pupils (53%) described reading as fun after taking part.
- One in four (24%) teachers noticed that pupils enjoy reading more after taking part in the programme
Students really enjoyed the texts from the Game Changers programme! Having copies of the books was also really special for the students and they loved reading these when we had some spare time. The Stormzy and Sterling books were the favourites.Teacher
Sterling grew up like me. Now he is banging goals in the Euros. It’s coming home!Pupil
Finally, we asked about how often students read in their own time, finding:
- 41% of pupils say they have increased their reading frequency and 44% said they now read more in their free time.
- The number of pupils who report reading weekly outside class has more than doubled from 22% before the programme to 47% after the programme.
- While 61% of pupils told us they never engaged in reading outside class before starting Game Changers, only 39% told us this after taking part in the programme.
- More than half (52%) of teachers said pupils are more motivated to complete reading tasks since taking part.
I have had a lot of KS3 students asking to read for pleasure throughout the day (outside of their lessons) as they are acknowledging how much better they are getting. I can see the enjoyment and students are also reading as a de-stress which I have never seen before.Teacher
One student kept coming back into the classroom after walking out to complete a little bit more of his book and came to get it during his other lessons. Another student took home a book for Christmas to read and rang me over the holidays to say he really enjoyed it, could he have another book.Teacher
[Reading] can be something interesting to do. Sometimes I read comics, manga and books now to calm myself down.Pupil
Our evaluation thus demonstrated Game Changers’ impact against its core objectives - to improve pupils’ reading attitudes and abilities.
We also uncovered some unexpected positive outcomes – on students’ broader life and learning skills. We'll be digging deeper and sharing these nuanced and interesting findings in a future blog post coming soon.
The Game Changers programme is now available to run in all schools and settings. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our Game Changers page.