What Works for Literacy Difficulties?

6th edition

Welcome to

‘What Works for Literacy Difficulties?’

Search here for schemes:


Click here for all schemes with analysed data for improving reading accuracy and/or comprehension.


Click here for all schemes with analysed data for improving spelling.


Click here for all schemes with analysed data for improving writing.

About this resource

Most children learn to read and write satisfactorily first time through home support and/or high-quality classroom teaching, but what of those children who haven’t? How are they to be helped? According to the Department for Education, in 2019 73% of pupils reached the expected standard in reading at the end of Key Stage 2 (KS2) – down by 2 percentage points from 2018 – meaning that 27% of pupils left Primary education below the expected standard in reading (DfE, 2019). In Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling (GPS), 78% of pupils reached the expected standard, meaning 22% did not.

This resource addresses the following two questions:

 1)    What intervention schemes are there which have been used in the UK in an attempt to boost the reading, spelling or overall writing attainment of lower-achieving pupils between the ages of 5 and 18, and have been quantitatively evaluated here?

2)    What are those schemes like, and how effective are they?


The intention of this resource is to examine the effects of targeted school-based interventions on the development of reading, spelling and writing. This 6th Edition provides information on intervention schemes for children and young people who struggle with reading, spelling, and/or writing. This resource reviews intervention schemes that have been devised to help struggling readers and writers, and is intended to inform schools’ and other providers’ choices among such schemes. There is an obvious need for schools to have clear information, in order to make principled decisions about which approach to adopt for children who experience difficulties in literacy.

The intention is to make clear and analytic information on such schemes available in order to inform practice and choices of approach.

Those choices should be guided not only by the evidence assembled and analysed here, but also by careful matching of the needs of an individual school, class or child to the specifics of particular schemes.

understanding the data

In order to judge whether an initiative has really made a difference, it is not enough just to ask the participants – they will almost always say it has. This ‘feel-good’ factor is valid on its own terms, but doesn’t always correlate with measured progress, and certainly doesn’t convince policy-makers and funders. So it is essential to have quantitative data on the learners’ progress, measured by appropriate tests of (in this case) reading, spelling or writing.

But not just any test data will do: if the test provides only raw scores, the average gain may look impressive, but what does it mean? How good is it, compared with gains in other projects and/or with national norms? We need some way of comparing the impacts of different initiatives. The two forms of impact measure used in this report are ratio gains and effect sizes.

On each intervention’s page there is a summary table. The table indicates the potential impact of a scheme based on the analyses of data which have been made available.

Where a scheme has data available from more than one study, the table will show the largest impact measure obtained from across all of the available data, and is therefore suggestive of the potential impact of the scheme.

Brooks's what works for literacy difficulties?

6th Edition (2020)

Lavan, G. & Talcott, J. B.

Download Previous Editions

Greg Brooks

Greg Brooks

Emeritus Professor of Education, The University of Sheffield

“When speaking about the 5th edition of ‘What Works’ at a British Dyslexia Association conference in 2016, Greg Brooks mentioned that if a 6th edition were ever to appear, he would not be producing it, and invited anyone interested in taking over to contact him. Gary Lavan did so, and brought in his colleague Joel Talcott. This 6th edition is the result”.

Dr Gary Lavan

Educational Psychologist

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