Examining the Impact of Memory and Processing Speed Deficits upon Literacy Attainment in Key Stage 3 Pupils in a UK Mainstream Secondary School

  • Sian Rees

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science by Research (MScR)


Memory abilities and processing speed are well researched areas of cognitive function. In previous studies, short term and working memory and processing speed have been identified as predicting factors. Research focusing on the literacy attainment of Key Stage 3 pupils in the UK is less well debated. In this study the current level of support for students with cognitive processing deficits is discussed. KS3 mainstream students were assessed using the Raven standard matrices; using a matched pairs design on the basis of raw scores achieved, 42 participants were allocated to either a lower or higher achieving literacy group determined upon Key Stage 2 SATs results. Participants then performed visual spatial and verbal short-term and working memory, alphanumeric rapid naming, clerical speed/visual processing and phonological and visual reaction times tasks. Analysis of variance found main effects of: verbal modality, rapid naming, phonological reaction time and literacy attainment upon group; there were no significant interactions. One-way ANOVAs and independent samples t-tests found the lower performing literacy group performed significantly less well than the higher group on measures of verbal memory, rapid naming, phonological reaction times and reading and spelling. Reaction time tests were not normally distributed and were treated with caution; they correlate strongly with rapid naming. In the lower literacy group, significant correlations were found between reading and rapid naming, but not in the higher group. 28% of participants were found to have at least one area of cognitive processing in the below average range. Limitations of this study and recommendations for further research are discussed along with pedagogical concerns raised by the results.
Key terms: Processing speed, reaction time, short-term memory, working memory, modality
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorChris Jarrold (Supervisor)

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