Closing the language gap - how an ambitious vocabulary curriculum can help primary schools

Author: Teachit's word gap team
Published: 01/10/2020

Bridging the learning gap caused by COVID-19 and providing support for children who have fallen behind is a key challenge for all schools, but learning loss has been particularly severe for some. The attainment gap will inevitably widen as a result of recent school closures (EPI, 2020), with further bubble quarantining posing an ongoing concern. 

Unfortunately, children with a vocabulary deficit are at a further disadvantage, and studies have shown that this word gap affects their progress, wellbeing and lifelong prospects (OUP, 2018). 

A positively framed  'recovery curriculum' (Carpenter and Carpenter, 2020) can help to set the tone and context for this year’s learning, but many schools are focusing on cornerstones of learning - reading, writing and oracy - with vocabulary development at the core of their curriculum design.

For Mary Myatt, vocabulary is one of the ‘instruments’ of curriculum development (2018), and the Education Endowment Fund also emphasises the importance of aligning vocabulary instruction with curriculum development.

  • the importance of reading widely (including fiction and non-fiction texts) 
  • explicit teaching of important individual words 
  • teaching students the skills to help them to learn new words independently 
  • fostering ‘word consciousness’.

Research school Durrington High School began a whole-school literacy focus in 2017 based on explicit vocabulary instruction with investment in staff CPD. Here, Durrington explores a similar approach in primary schools and looks at the strategies implemented by one school – Bury CE Primary School in West Sussex – and their impact.

Further case studies are detailed by Project READ who, in 2019, launched a nine month programme – School Improvement Reading Programme: Developing Vocabulary from EYFS to Year 6 – drawing on research-informed practice and aiming to equip schools with knowledge, skills and practical approaches to boost word-learning and narrow the ‘word gap’.

We can all help to change the ‘word poor’ into the ‘word rich’ (Quigley, 2018) by providing an enriched language environment, by focusing on children’ spoken language and written skills and by celebrating new words and exploring their variety.

In collaboration with Oxford University Press, we’ve created a range of free materials to support vocabulary development and close the word gap: 

Further reading 

Education Policy Institute (2020) Preventing the disadvantage gap from increasing during and after the Covid-19 pandemic  

Education Endowment Fund (2020) Covid 19 support guide for schools

Carpenter, B. and Carpenter, M. (2020) A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic

Myatt, M. (2018) The Curriculum Gallimaufry to coherence (John Catt)

Oxford University Press (2018) Why Closing the Word Gap Matters

Quigley, A. (2018) Closing the Vocabulary Gap (David Fulton) 

Teachit's word gap team

Teachit's word gap team is a group of experienced teachers, leaders and literacy practitioners.