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Literacy hour success down to 'more time'

There could be a simple explanation for improvements, reports Geraldine Hackett

THE Government's pound;800 million strategy for improving reading and numeracy in primary schools is beginning to show results, but the gains could be just due to more time spent on the 3Rs.

According to Professor Michael Fullan and his team from Toronto University, the reforms are probably the most ambitious attempt in the world to raise school standards by direct government intervention.

However, the team's report, Watching and Learning, says there is not yet evidence that such practices can be counted on to produce gains in literacy and numeracy and there could be an impact on other subjects. Further gains are likely to be restricted by teachers' abilities and, says Professor Fullan, more money should be invested in training teachers.

The major criticism of the literacy hour, introduced in 1998,

is that it fails to do enough to develop higher order thinking and deep understanding.

To do that, teachers need to develop children's vocabulary and background knowledge, making sure that the children in each class understand and remember what they had been taught, says Profesor Fullan.

Results have gone up over four years from 49 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching the expected level to 70 per cent. The report says the higher scores are almost exclusively in reading, with only modest improvements in writing.

The team says the maths scores are curious because they began to improve before schools had to adopt the strategy, though it notes that teachers introduced it early.

Overall, the report suggests the improvements are probably the result of the strategy; the priority given by schools to literacy and numeracy and sanctions that are triggered by low scores. Local authorities are expected to intervene where schools are failing to reach targets.

The team produced the report from analyses of data and interviews with the project leaders and consultants. During the next 10 months researchers will carry out case studies of schools. The Fullan team has been commissioned to produce two more annual reports.

The report was welcomed by Estelle Morris, the standards minister, who said it confirmed that the Government is on course.

The report can be ordered via e-mail: dfee@prolog.uk.com

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