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Budget shortfalls threaten literacy scheme

More slow readers are male - and there is less cash around to help them. Helen Ward reports

A programme to help children who find reading difficult is under threat because schools can no longer afford to run it.

Reading Recovery, a 20-week, one-to-one intensive programme which costs pound;1,000 per child, was devised for children who cannot catch up with their peers through working in a group. But the number of Reading Recovery teachers and the children they help has fallen by 40 per cent since 1998 - the year the National Literacy Strategy was introduced.

Julia Douetil, national co-ordinator for Reading Recovery, said: "These children need something more intensive than light-touch approaches.

"I strongly believe they need the best-qualified teachers. But schools which have funded the programme for a long time are no longer doing so because of the crisis in school budgets."

A survey of one authority, which had 96 Reading Recovery teachers in 59 schools a decade ago, found that only 16 schools were still running the programme, and six of these may drop it next year.

Diane Woodward, headteacher at Parson Cross Church of England primary school, in Sheffield, has decided to continue with the programme, despite a deficit budget.

She said: "I was adamant that the one thing we would not lose was our part-time Reading Recovery teacher.

"Instead, we cut down and spent no money on resources at all."

Evaluations of the programme have found that children participating in it made significantly more progress than those who had no help. But studies differ in their views about how long the effects last.

Reading Recovery was first developed by academics in New Zealand. Surrey was the first English authority to introduce the programme in 1990.

In 1992, the Conservative government provided pound;14.2 million over three years to introduce the programme into schools in 20 local authorities. But funding was withdrawn after the three-year trial, and Labour's literacy task force said it wanted research into whether Reading Recovery was cost-effective.

The National Literacy Strategy, in guidance issued to headteachers last year, continues to recognise Reading Recovery as a valuable support for those pupils who are not progressing in the literacy hour or getting extra help in a group.

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