Dewar backs phonics project

Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, is today (Friday) expected to back an early literacy project that has doubled the reading age of disadvantaged pupils in a year.

Unlike other initiatives the Clackmannan scheme, which uses methods pioneered at St Andrews University, involves no extra staff and concentrates on sharpened methods of teaching phonics.

Mr Dewar will visit Park primary in Alloa, one of three to pilot "synthetic phonics" last session. The approach blends the sounding of words with print.

Clackmannan adopted the approach in its Scottish Office early intervention pilot and produced the surprising finding that class teachers can help primary 1 pupils make two years' normal reading progress in their first year. A short, more focused programme of phonics is used.

Keir Bloomer, director of education, said virtually all pupils in the three schools had made enormous advances. Without the new approach many would have been expected to hit difficulties by the end of primary 1.

Mr Bloomer said the council had invested less than its Scottish Office allowance but had had a high return. "We were keen to make our pilot affordable. We have often run pilots in Scotland that you cannot afford to replicate," he said.

The only extra costs were in new materials and staff training. All Clackmannan primaries have now moved to the new methods.

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