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New chapter opens for literacy

ACTION will finally get under way in October to tackle the stubborn failure of many younger pupils to make progress in reading and writing.

A new project, entitled "Building Bridges in Literacy P6-S2", was launched last week at a major conference in Edinburgh on literacy and numeracy, organised by Learning and Teaching Scotland which will manage it.

The initiative has already had one piece of advice from HMI: use quality texts that do not leave the kids "bored out of their skulls" (see below).

The move was launched in March by Cathy Jamieson, former education minister, following an inspectorate report which exposed major weaknesses in the teaching of English. The report, Improving Achievement in English Language in Primary and Secondary Schools, found:

* Slow progress from P4 to S6.

* Decline in reading for pleasure after S1-S2.

* Difficulties with writing and analysis from P7-S4.

* Around one in 10 pupils with a Standard grade award fails to achieve a National Qualification.

* A quarter of pupils with a Standard grade Credit fail to achieve a Higher pass.

Ms Jamieson announced at the time and in her later response to the national education debate that action to tackle literacy would be at the heart of the Scottish Executive's curriculum and assessment reforms. Problems with literacy and numeracy also lie behind plans to reduce S1 and S2 English and maths classes to 20.

The Building Bridges project, according to Cathrin Howells, one of two development officers appointed by Learning and Teaching Scotland, will be "a very important professional development opportunity for staff, not just an improvement for the pupils".

Every one of Scotland's 32 education authorities has signed up. They will be asked to select one secondary school and its associated primaries to improve their reading and writing programmes, taking account of the latest research. Lessons will be disseminated to all schools next year.

Ms Howells said there would be nothing to stop authorities extending the approaches in the pilot scheme to other schools. She hoped a range of schools would become involved, from the successful to the struggling. Each pilot will have to submit action plans by October.

The literacy team anticipates that all the key players will get on board, crucially the teacher education institutions which will then be expected to improve language training for the next generation of teachers - itself the subject of criticism from HMI in a report published in March last year.

This inclusiveness will also spread beyond the confines of English departments: at least one other subject teacher will be involved in each of the 32 projects as will a school librarian.

"Their presence will reinforce the significance of language development across the curriculum and promote the key message about reading for enjoyment," Alison Wishart, the principal curriculum officer leading the project for Learning and Teaching Scotland, said.

She described the project as "going with the grain of what schools and authorities are already doing in terms of their development and improvement plans".

The project received a strong endorsement from John Travers, director of education in North Ayrshire, which is regarded as an innovator in literacy work. Mr Travers praised it as "complementary to other initiatives, supportive of local developments, adequately funded and educationally significant".

There will be area seminars in four parts of the country for the participating schools, a national conference next June and case studies which will be made available over the internet by the end of 2004.

Ms Howells said she hoped the outcome would be "professional hunger and relentless optimism".

Mike Baughan, chief executive of Learning and Teaching Scotland, said he hoped a similar project on numeracy would get off the ground.

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