Published on: 18 Jun 2020

Using New Group Reading Test in this imperfect learning storm

By Paddy McCabe, Principal, St. Oliver Plunkett Primary School, Belfast

We need to chart our way out of these stormy seas and we believe that NGRT will help inform us upon our return to classrooms in September.

St. Oliver Plunkett Primary School in Belfast sits in the 47th of 890 Super Output Areas based on measures of social deprivation. Approximately 65% of our children are entitled to Free School Meals and over 90% are from a Neighbourhood Renewal Area.

One of the growing concerns of staff in our Foundation Stage was that our children transitioning into Year 1 had growing literacy deficits. These observations had always been anecdotal – we had no hard and fast data to reinforce our belief that this was the case- until we started to use GL Assessment’s New Group Reading Test (NGRT) from Years 3-7 as part of our in-school assessment package.

We had intended to administer NGRT at the end of March and had hoped that we would see a continuation of the positive comparisons we have witnessed over recent years - but alas we did not get that chance. We exist in a very different reality now.

We often reference the Hart and Risley 30 million word gap study, which showed that children from lower-income families hear a staggering 30 million fewer words than children from higher-income families by the time they are 4 years old. In fact, we believe that the gap is even greater now, as the study was completed in a time before there was ready internet access, mobile devices, access to hundreds of digital TV channels, YouTube and gaming etc. This recognition informed our decision to put in place a reading focus across the school which was embedded in our School Development Plan and our daily practices - and why we used NGRT as a tool to baseline and measure impact.

We now also have additional concerns: a six-month absence from school (irrespective of remote learning) followed by a new beginning of reduced classes. These have come together with our initial challenges to create a terrible, imperfect learning storm.

We need to chart our way out of these stormy seas and we believe that NGRT will help inform us upon our return to classrooms in September. We will be administering our suite of tests from GL Assessment to give us baselines and greater insights into gaps in learning and barriers to understanding. We are under no illusions that the baselines we will see will most likely not be where they were in September 2019.

We will use NGRT to give us that straight baseline and hope, upon its re-administration over the course of the next few academic years, we can track the steady improvement of our pupils and celebrate the input of our staff and parents in improving the outcomes for our children. 

St. Oliver Plunkett Primary School is one of our Advocate Partners