Dewar hails phonics breakthrough

The results of the Clackmannan early learning initiative surpassed the expectations of the council and have "major national and perhaps international significance", Keir Bloomer, director of education, said last week in Alloa.

Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State, was there to give his backing and expressed his "immense enthusiasm" at the progress made by primary 1 pupils in reading, writing and spelling using a pioneering phonics system.

Mr Bloomer said that the initiative did not involve extra time or resources and success was not due to social factors but to "the consistent,conscientious application of sophisticated techniques and the quality of teaching by people who were not handpicked".

Anne Pearson, headteacher of Park primary, which Mr Dewar visited, said:

"We were encouraged to take a risk or six, and staff openness to change has been a major factor."

Park was one of eight primaries to take part in a research project involving 300 children and psychologists from St Andrews University to examine the effectiveness of three different approaches to the teaching of reading. Children were tested before and after the 16-week programme, which started in September last year.

Three schools, including Park, used the synthetic phonic method and by March this year the children taught that way outstripped the gains made in the other schools. By the end of primary 1, mean reading ages of children in this group were between 12 and 18 months ahead of what would have been expected.

Results in spelling showed average gains of 14 months.

Lesley Robertson, depute head at Abercromby primary in Tullibody and the Scottish Office-funded development officer for the project, said that after about eight weeks she saw that children were responding to pictures by independently spelling out words on their magnetic boards and using their "choosing time" to write with pens and pencils.

She is now helping to extend the approach to the other 16 primaries in Clackmannanshire.

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