The heavy boxes of literacy strategy training materials arriving in every English primary school this month represent something new in British education. For the first time, all primary teachers will have the same training, wherever they are.
The materials are clear, explicit and detailed, setting out advice and programmes of study for teachers on all aspects of the literacy hour, including ways to make sure it runs smoothly. It tells heads and language co-ordinators what to cover during in-service days and staff meetings. Some will see this uniformity as "Big Brother-ish", others will be relieved not to have to "re-invent the wheel" in every school.
The Government wants all schools to implement the literacy hour from September unless they can prove they are using methods at least as effective. Whether or not a school chooses to use the literacy-hour approach, no teacher should be denied the training, says Michael Barber, head of the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit. "This is an entitlement for primary teachers to know and understand best practice," he said.
The Government wants to learn from schools' experiences and modify the strategy where necessary. Ministers do not want to discourage innovation, or there will be no new ideas to build on, Professor Barber said.
Although a pilot national literacy project has been running in 13 local authorities for more than a year, no evaluation has yet been published. Ofsted has been monitoring it closely, along with a pilot numeracy project in 12 education authorities, and reports on both are due out soon. The strategy, says Professor Barber, is based on a range of research evidence of what works, as well as experience from the pilot.
During the summer term, each school will be expected to:
* Conduct an audit, set literacy targets and define their priorities in an action plan.
* Spend an in-service day, or a series of staff meetings, on the training materials to prepare teachers for September.
* Devote three in-service days in 1998-1999 to literacy training.
The pack contains six modules of work: managing the literacy hour; word level work (phonics and spelling); sentence level work (grammar and punctuation); shared and guided reading and writing at pre-key stage 1 and key stage 1; and a similar module for key stage 2; and reading and writing for information.
Each is designed to be covered in one in-service day, or a series of staff meetings, and there will be some "homework" for teachers. They will also be given practical teaching suggestions.
Training in phonics teaching is the first priority - it is the first training module in the autumn and the fattest pack in the DFEE box.
In response to teacher concerns about whether the literacy hour will be unsuitable for children at the extremes of ability, guidance will be forthcoming on special needs and gifted and talented children. There is also advice about small schools and mixed-age classes.