Mr McKay told the conference of the Scottish and Northern Ireland branches of the BPS in Ayr that many children also need intensive individual remediation, plus programmes aimed at changing negative attitudes towards school, education and reading.
He acknowledged the "tremendous work" being done through Government early intervention programmes: "the biggest single thing being done to raise literacy in poor areas." But Mr McKay stressed that these programmes were "not enough. Children who are failing in reading need more individual input - even if this goes against the grain of the present Government's inclusive approach.
"The effects of short-term intervention can soon be washed out," he said. There would always be a hard core whose reading did not progress with any remediation method "because they have decided that education is not for them. They have developed a total block against learning."
But Mr McKay also claimed that intervention programmes can help to raise standards beyond those involved in them. In an experiment in West Dunbartonshire, where he works, groups of S1 and S2 pupils were given an hour's one-to-one-intervention for 10 weeks to raise confidence and self-esteem through, for example, reading games.
Their reading age improved by a year, but improvements were also discovered among pupils not receiving the intervention. "Reading became a cool thing to do. The children got a buzz that reading was where it was all at."