The Knowledge

The Knowledge: How can we restore a love of writing among young people?

Amid evidence of a sharp decline in young people’s enjoyment of writing, our new report sheds light on where solutions might be found

Amid evidence of a sharp decline in young people’s enjoyment of writing, our new report sheds light on where solutions might be found

1 Jul 2024, 5:00

The ability to write well is a key pillar to so many subjects in school, not just English. It matters beyond the classroom too, playing an important role in our professional and personal lives.

But learning to write well is not easy: it’s linguistically complex, requires a mixture of fine motor and cognitive skills, and requires the writer to reflect the cultural and social patterns of their time. This is no mean feat!

Research from the National Literacy Trust published this month highlighted a worrying decline in young people’s propensity to write in their free time. The organisation described their findings as a ‘children’s writing crisis’.

They found that over one-third of eight- to 18-year-olds (35.7 per cent) rarely or never write in their free time, a sharp increase from the previous year. What’s more, the latest government data tells us that just under one-third (29 per cent) of pupils leave primary school with writing levels below those expected for their age.

This trend is reflected in our latest practice review, which investigated the challenges and priorities for educators teaching writing skills across both primary and secondary schools. As part of the exploratory review by a team from Pearson, we surveyed hundreds of teachers to find out what they thought the biggest barriers to improving writing outcomes are.

Issues like poor pupil vocabulary and inconsistent approaches to teaching writing came through strongly for both primary and secondary school teachers.

Many secondary school teachers also perceived a lack of pupil motivation as a significant challenge in teaching writing, which was cited by one in four (25 per cent) of the secondary teachers surveyed. This wasn’t perceived to be as big a challenge in primary schools, which could suggest pupils’ motivation to write declines as they progress into secondary schools.

Teachers need to have a full toolbox to draw from

We know on the whole that teachers are solutions-focussed. So what strategies are they currently using to tackle these issues? Feedback from teachers as part of this review pulled out a number of creative approaches that they are using to bolster motivation and interest in writing.

Many report having found success in using other activities such as cooking, a drama piece or a visit from an author as a ‘hook’ into writing.

It is not only about creative approaches though; many teachers also foster encouraging environments to build motivation. This can be through praise such as having a writer of the week award, but also by encouraging a safe space for pupils to be able to make mistakes.

Tackling declining motivation to write among pupils isn’t just down to the approaches of individuals though. There are wider issues at play that need to be addressed to best tackle this.

Access to high-quality continuing professional development (CPD) is crucial for all areas of teaching. Writing is no exception, yet our review found that there are currently minimal professional development opportunities within schools to support writing.

For teachers to be able to support all areas of writing (including motivation), they need to have a full toolbox to be able to draw from. And the surest way to ensure this is through CPD and evidence-based approaches.

Writing is a key research theme for the EEF this year and the issues highlighted here point exactly to why. This practice review has helped us shine a light on current priorities and challenges schools are experiencing around writing.

These findings will help inform the direction of our upcoming research projects to help build the evidence base around effective writing practice, launching later this year. We hope this evidence will help better fill this toolbox for teachers, helping to support a love of writing for young people and ensuring they are able to meet their potential.

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