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Crunch year for Reading Recovery

Urban local authorities across England are struggling to maintain the successful Reading Recovery programme as the three-year Government grants near their end. Most of the 26 local authorities running the scheme, which helps six-year-olds who have trouble learning to read, have applied for more cash through the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB), and expect to hear whether they have been successful early in the New Year.

Former Education Secretary Kenneth Clarke launched the scheme amid much fanfare in the run-up to the last general election, providing Pounds 10 million over three years under the Grants for Education Support and Training scheme, a sum unlikely to be matched by the amount available from the SRB. GEST money runs out next April.

With ever-tightening budgets, some schools are bound to be unable to keep the scheme, which needs a half-time teacher, without help. Local authorities, who currently pay 40 per cent of costs, are scrambling to find alternative funds.

The London Borough of Brent's position is typical. It hopes to maintain the service, but won't be able to keep it going at the same level without outside grants.

Inspector Rose Ives said the uncertainty made it hard to plan ahead. The scheme, however, had been an enormous success. "The change in children is extraordinary," she said. "The important spin-off to me is the way it changes teachers' practice and makes them think about the way they teach reading. " It seemed "almost criminal", she added, that funding could disappear after so much enthusiasm had been generated.

Anson primary in Brent, praised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate for its highly successful work with refugee children, could not afford a Reading Recovery teacher this term, although the LEA will be able to help next term. Headteacher Betty Davies said the children had "blossomed" under the intensive half-hour sessions, and it was a shame that the "highly trained Reading Recovery teacher who worked so hard and had such excellent training" could not work with them this term. However, the teacher was giving help and advice on reading to the rest of the school.

Reading Recovery, designed by Dame Marie Clay in New Zealand, is a highly structured programme targeting the worst four readers in every class of six-year-olds to bring them up to the class average. Specialist teachers in schools are supported by a national centre and teacher trainers in each LEA.

Angela Hobsbaum, a national network co-ordinator at the University of London's Institute of Education, which trains tutors, coordinates and monitors the scheme, said this would be a crunch year. The research showed that Reading Recovery teachers got better with experience, and now many were in their second year as fully-trained tutors. "It's crazy to cut the programme short just when you're in the position to capitalise on it," she said. However, schools had more means of funding the scheme themselves than they often realised.

Sheffield has not managed to bid through the SRB, but Reading Recovery coordinator Steve Anwell said he was "reasonably hopeful" about future funding. Although expensive, the scheme was cost-effective, he said, because the early intervention could save huge sums in support later. "The issue is who bears the cost, because it works with children of a particular age to benefit the whole system."

Hammersmith and Fulham, which introduced the scheme before the Government's big push, has managed to train at least one Reading Recovery teacher in each school, and is optimistic about receiving SRB funding. But without it, said a spokeswoman, "in many of our schools Reading Recovery would just cease".

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