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Early intervention works - OK

It is reassuring to see positive evidence for early intervention in Glasgow and Aberdeen reported by you in the past few months. The results given in these articles reflect our findings in Inverclyde.

We used a standardised test from NFER suitable for young children and this was administered in P1. The results can be used to predict subsequent levels of attainment in literacy and numeracy. From the results of the same pupils in P1 and P3, we found that there were significant improvements in both areas.

We had selected a group of schools with the highest levels of deprivation as measured by free meals, clothing grants and other factors. The schools were designated as either "maths" or "literacy" schools.

The pupils in all project schools improved in both maths and literacy.

However, the most striking aspect of the outcomes of the test were that the pupils with the lowest scores in P1 had made the largest gains by P3. That is, the most disadvantaged made the most progress.

Yet the conclusions of the Government's national evaluation of the Early Intevention Program were seen by many of those participating as very negative. There appear to have been several reasons for this.

The first was that different education authorities devised different strategies. For example, some involved all their schools while others focused on a selected group of schools facing the most severe problems.

Secondly, not all education authorities evaluated the project using standardised tests. Reports in The TES Scotland indicated that evaluations were often anecdotal, based on teachers' comments. In others, comparisons were made using changes in national test results over time for P3.

Any changes in P3 attainment might have been due to differences in cohorts or to differences in testing procedures, not necessarily to the effects of early intervention.

A third reason was that the national evaluation did not track pupil progress across time but measured the attainment of two different groups of children who were in P3 at two time points. Not even Standard grade results continue to improve every year.

As a result of these three factors, the national evaluation found that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils had not been diminished on the basis of their testing programme. This conclusion is challenged by the reports from the subsequent Glasgow and Aberdeen results and by our own results from 2000.

The national evaluation also defined "disadvantage" in terms of free meals.

This is a useful surrogate for prior attainment when that data is not available.

In our study, and I presume in the Glasgow and Aberdeen work, prior attainment information was available and so disadvantage was defined in terms of low performance in the standardised tests.

As indicated, we found the largest gains were made by the most disadvantaged pupils between P1 and P3.

It is our belief that the apparent failure of Eearly Intevention was not the underlying concepts but an artefact of the evaluation reporting process which of necessity had to lump together all the outcomes from all education authorities when there was a diverse range of implementation processes and monitoring procedures.

The national evaluation itself pointed out that focused interventions do lead to significant improvements. It is good to see the true benefits of early intervention being made clear in your reports and it is hoped that the focus for the future can be on what works, not on what failed.

Elizabeth Hart Margaret Meiklejohn Ron Mitchell Early Intervention Team Inverclyde Council Education Services

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