Skills Academy boosts vulnerable students’ reading skills and supports personal growth

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Nina Moore is headteacher at Full Circle Education, a short-stay alternative education provider for children and young people aged 11-16 in South East London.

“Students are referred to us when they need access to therapeutic support because they are not coping in mainstream school or they have been excluded from school”, said Nina. “Our students are some of the most vulnerable in our society and have huge challenges to overcome with literacy, numeracy, trauma and emotional regulation.”

Seeking a programme that could help students improve their literacy skills and also support personal growth, Full Circle chose to run Skills Academy this school year – with fantastic results.

The majority of children and young people who took part in the programme made significant academic progress, with one student improving their reading age by three years in just 10 weeks. Students also made strides in their personal, social and emotional development.

“A year 11 student came to us with huge literacy deficits and a complete lack of self-confidence”, said Nina. “With a very challenging back-story, she had many obstacles to overcome. Skills Academy was a catalyst for turning her life around and improving her life chances. The reason for starting the Skills Academy programme with her was to improve her literacy skills so that she could function safely and independently in the future. Her progress surpassed all our hopes and what she discovered was reading for pleasure and the enormous therapeutic release it brought on a day-to-day basis.”

Reflecting on the wider benefits of the programme, Nina said: “Students experience pleasure and personal growth from Skills Academy as they find a newfound delight in reading. They feel so elated when they have read and processed something that they then start to choose books from the classroom shelves and even ask to take them home.

“The Skills Academy class reader is a strong focus for us because, as students progress quickly in a short space of time, they realise that reading a book actually enhances their life – it doesn’t always have to come with shame or criticism. They experience great personal growth from reading aloud without the huge embarrassment of previous experiences.”

Ofsted were also complementary about the impact of Skills Academy on students’ progress, particularly how it supported such impressive reading age growth in such a short space of time. Full Circle will continue to run Skills Academy in the new academic year.

Nina concluded: “Skills Academy can play a huge part in improving a student’s literacy, whether they are studying for their GCSEs or have joined secondary school with a huge literacy deficit.

“Many children are labelled naughty at primary school and then miss out on a full holistic learning environment because they are often told to leave the classroom and learn in isolation. Once confidence and literacy levels start to drop in the classroom, the impact on accessing knowledge in school is limited, as are life chances later on. Often these children are misunderstood and use poor behaviour as a deflection from underlying issues. These children have dreams and aspirations too and we must be positive advocates to unlock them enrich a child’s life.”