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'Bring out the strengths in each child'

Reading research backs Scots methods

At least one Scottish authority has embarked on a programme for both primary and secondary teachers who feel they need retraining in how to teach reading and writing.

But it is only one weapon in the armoury of Stirling Council which aims to develop a comprehensive standards initiative of its own, in advance of a Scotland-wide strategy and without the legislative "big stick" being waved in England.

Margaret Doran, head of the schools service in Stirling, stresses the needs of teachers in primary 4 to primary 7 who may well have to be re-equipped in teaching basic skills if they have spent long periods away from lower primary classes.

This will be one of the remits of a council working group which is to look at how attainment can be raised as part of the education department's overall plan to reduce inequalities and underachievement. The council has also commissioned research from Stirling University to study underperformance in the early years of secondary school.

Ms Doran says the researchers will not just focus on underachievement but on "what exactly do we mean by achievement?" Like other councils that are sharing in the Government's Pounds 24 million early intervention programme, Stirling intends to test its first-year primary intake. This "baseline assessment", effectively ordered by the Scottish Office, is one measure by which a school's effectiveness can be judged as well as each pupil's performance.

Stirling's working group will attempt to gather harder assessment evidence of pupil performance in reading and writing across the 5-14 range so checks can be kept on progress over the next three years. That, of course, means early secondary as well as primary.

Ms Doran believes that, while the 5-14 attainment levels cannot be ignored, they are too broad to provide that hard evidence. They also come too late in the cycle since the achievement of level A, for example, can be delayed until primary 3 for some pupils.

She hopes the early intervention strategy can begin to monitor pupils' chronological and reading ages, assessing progress over time. But she warns against judging pupils on "paper-and-pencil exercises" which, for example, ignore the use of information technology to develop the basic skills.

"Our key principle is to do whatever we can to bring out the strengths in each child," Ms Doran states. "We must keep in mind the value-added progress the whole time and the quality of the learning process as well as the end product. It is also vital that, in seeking to enhance the basic skills we don't forget that what matters is the whole child including their personal and social development."

Appraisal for headteachers, which is under way, and for teachers, which starts this year, is being linked to Stirling's drive to improve school performance, in particular to ensure that staff have high expectations of pupils.

The council promises "quality staff development opportunities" to plug any gaps, and says headteacher training is "essential".

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