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Looked-after children switched on to literature

Reading ages soar within two terms as virtual school targets hard-to- reach group with one-to-one tuition scheme

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Reading ages soar within two terms as virtual school targets hard-to- reach group with one-to-one tuition scheme

A tuition scheme in East Anglia designed to improve reading skills among notoriously hard-to-reach looked-after primary pupils has reported major improvements.

The pilot project has measured the rate of improvement in a group of 26 pupils exposed to regular bursts of Catch Up Literacy. The initiative is run by the Norfolk Virtual School - which keeps track of the education of children in care and provides support when necessary - has proved so successful that it has now been made a permanent feature of the school's work.

Two 15-minute sessions of Catch Up Literacy were given to 26 pupils in 19 Norfolk schools every week for two terms. At the end of the seven-month pilot, the 20 children who completed the scheme saw an average gain in their reading age of 17.15 months - some progressed by 30 months.

Catch Up Literacy is an established programme that gives a targeted approach to pupils struggling to read. It involves choosing a book for them from a graded list of more than 5,000 and then following it up with two 15-minute one-to-one tutorials per week.

A report on the study described the effect on Danielle, a Year 6 pupil: "She will pick up a book now and read for pleasure, whereas before she was reluctant to read," her carer reported. "I find reading books under her pillow and she's recently started a diary."

Another child on the scheme, Peter, who has a statement of special educational needs, said that after the programme he was "really good at reading" and was especially keen on the Horrid Henry books.

Terry Cook, head of school performance, organisation and inclusion for Norfolk and head of the county's virtual school, said: "Some of our looked-after children have a lot of dislocation and need additional support. Schools would pick it up anyway, but as a virtual school we have an overview of the needs of the 823 looked-after children (in our area), whereas a school may only have one child.

"We can see where additional support is needed and provide it."

The virtual school has its own support staff who go into schools to provide Catch Up tuition.

The project, together with a number of other programmes to improve attendance and motivation, has seen the proportion of looked-after children in Norfolk leaving primary school with level 4 in English rise from 26 per cent in 2004 to 53 per cent in 2008.

Fostering ambition

A separate study on foster carers' delivery of Catch Up Literacy to children at home revealed difficulties in the approach.

The research focused on 10 looked-after children in the Midlands who attended mainstream schools and experienced significant difficulties with literacy.

But only three of them completed the pilot, all of whom derived benefit. However, the study revealed that, of the others, one child had been wrongly identified by the school as being in need of intensive help with reading, three moved placements during the pilot and some were resistant to doing extra work after school.

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