Specially-trained teachers work one-to-one with them in daily half-hour sessions, designed to build on what the child can already do.
Children are released from the programme when they have caught up with their classmates, which normally takes around 12 to 20 weeks.
The programme, developed in New Zealand, was funded through government grants in the early 1990s, but this funding was discontinued in 1995.
At present, about 5,000 six-year-olds receive Reading Recovery every year, with schools and local authorities paying for it. In 2003, its success rate in preparing children to progress in ordinary classes was 81 per cent. Most of the remaining children have also improved significantly.
Initially, the scheme was used with the bottom 20 per cent of readers, but now usually eight to 10 children a year will receive the programme in a school from a teacher working half-time in the scheme. About half the children are from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Key stage 2 test results show that about 70 per cent of the children who have had the programme reach level 4, and many more attain level 3.
Reading Recovery has been estimated at costing more than pound;1,000 per child, in addition to teacher-training costs, but proponents argue that it saves money in the long term as fewer children need extra help.