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'A decade and we can end illiteracy'

ONE OF the most deprived education authorities in Scotland claimed this week that it expects to eliminate illiteracy within 10 years. West Dunbartonshire bases its bold claim on a new reading strategy in primary schools.

A conference in Clydebank heard that for the third year in a row children's reading abilities have risen significantly, and the number of pupils with serious difficulties has fallen dramatically.

Before the new initiative, which provides for more time to be spent on reading and focuses on phonological awareness and the alphabet, was introduced in 1997, almost half the authority's P1 pupils had low scores in early reading skills, such as knowing the sounds of letters. That figure has dropped to 7 per cent.

The number of words read by P1 children on a word recognition test has risen by more than 90 per cent. At P2 only three pupils in ainstream schools had a low score on letter sounds, compared with 44 three years ago.

At secondary level, a project with pupils who had failed as readers has brought within a year an average gain of three and a half years in "reading age", whereas children not on the project showed gains of only five months.

Tommy MacKay, president of the British Psychological Society, who works in West Dunbartonshire, said: "What we are achieving has already made an impact on the world's research literature on literacy. Short-term gains have often been shown for reading programmes, but this ambitious initiative is showing significant longer-term gains for an entire population of children."

Danny McCafferty, education convener, said: "It will take many, many years to make illiteracy a thing of the past. However, today's results show that we are on track."

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