Reporter 432, 1 March 1999
The Government's drive to improve literacy in primary schools is being spearheaded by a researcher in the School of Education.
Dr Roger Beard was commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) to write a review of the research supporting its national literacy strategy. His report was published last week.
The strategy was first introduced in schools last September to raise standards of literacy. It is intended that eight out of ten eleven-year-olds will be able to read at what was formerly known as their 'reading age' by 2002. In 1996 nearly half of eleven year olds had a reading age of below eleven.
"It was quite a demanding brief," said Dr Beard. "This is the first time the Government has attempted to target all schools in the same way and I was asked to trace the origins of many of the ideas used."
Many of the teaching methods included in the strategy originate abroad and Dr Beard enlisted the help of the Brotherton Library in trawling international databases for clues.
These include the 'literacy hour' - based on methods from New Zealand and the USA - and recently introduced in many schools across the country. "One hour every day is divided into sections of direct, interactive teaching. For example, fifteen minutes is dedicated to sound/letter relationships, followed by 20 minutes of group reading," he said. Many of the techniques are aimed at improving the literacy skills of less able pupils. Children scoring below average can boost their scores considerably within eighteen months.
Dr Beard's research has made him optimistic for the future. "I think the new strategy will be a big help to raising literacy standards," he said. "It should help to improve the chances in life for many children."
The DfEE now has some reading of its own to do. Dr Beard's initial 10,000 word report has been added to at its request, and is now an impressive 27,000 words.
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