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Edinburgh targets 4,000 poor readers

An ambitious plan to help 4,000 pupils in deprived communities improve their reading skills has been submitted to the Scottish Office by Edinburgh City Council. The council hopes to replicate the successful early intervention programme in the Pilton area introduced by the former Lothian Region.

The disclosure came as Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, issued the latest Government advice to teachers about reading methods.

Edinburgh has asked the Scottish Office to back a Pounds 750,000 urban aid project to expand progress beyond Pilton's four primaries. Under the scheme, which follows months of backroom planning and high-level talks with the Scottish Office, schools in deprived communities across the city would be allocated learning support teachers and nursery nurses. Home-school links will be stepped up.

Elizabeth Maginnis, Edinburgh's education convener, claims that the project would be of "considerable interest across the western world" and would test one of the theories common to the 1960s that education is a way out of poverty.

Mr Robertson said on Wednesday that the teaching of reading was crucial to the success of pupils. He was commenting on the latest report in the Interchange series, published by the Scottish Office, entitled Methods of Teaching Reading: Key Issues in Research and Implications for Practice.

Officials are also preparing an interactive staff development package which should be ready by the middle of next year.

Research on reading undertaken for the Scottish Office by Dr Colin Harrison of Nottingham University (TESS, October 27), emphasises the importance of parents' contribution to pre-school literacy work and argues that all children are capable of learning to read given the right circumstances.

Progress is significantly more difficult for learners who have not been exposed to a wide vocabulary, the grammar of language construction or the structure of talking and cultural conventions, Dr Harrison found.

A report on the Pilton early intervention initiative before Edinburgh's education committee yesterday (Thursday) warned that despite steady and significant progress the most vulnerable children continue to experience difficulties with literacy. Researchers attribute this to the comparatively young age of children in P2 - 40 per cent were still five by November - poor attendance and lack of support outside school.

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