The new research also gives a hard knock to arguments that Reading Recovery, which offers intensive help to six-year-olds having trouble learning to read, is too expensive. The nation already spends millions of pounds on less effective help for such children. Standard provision is clearly mixed in its quality, and children with special needs face a lottery in terms of the help they get. Reading Recovery costs about twice as much per child over two years, but the children make on average six months more progress. But the savings for the future are untold. Proponents of the scheme argue that literacy problems nipped in the bud, before they have a chance to blight children's lives, mean massive savings in costs higher up the primary school and throughout secondary education.
However, long-term planning does not seem to be on the Government's agenda. In l992, with election fever raging, it launched a three-year "pilot" project to fund Reading Recovery and other literacy schemes in 20 urban local authorities. The following year former education secretary John Patten was still describing it as a "national trial", adding that he would consider whether there was scope to develop it.
At the end of this month, the three-year trial will be over, and the DFE shows no sign of considering a national project. So disadvantaged children still face a lottery. Fourteen authorities, including 12 of the original 20, have acquired funds to continue Reading Recovery through the Department of the Environment's Single Regeneration Budget. Some cash is also available through the DFE's school effectiveness grants. Some local authorities are finding money from their own budgets to carry on, often on a smaller scale. Others have funded it themselves from the word go. In some cases, even, individual primary schools are trying to find the money from their own small budgets - although the financial burden of a project with such a powerful impact throughout the system should not have to fall on infant departments.
As local authorities make final adjustments to their spending plans, schools anxiously wait to learn whether Reading Recovery will be available to their children. The continuation of the scheme has been characterised by uncertainty, anxiety and last-minute decisions. The future of the training and coordinating centre at the University of London, crucial to the structure of Reading Recovery as conceived by its founder, Dame Marie Clay of New Zealand, is also in doubt.
The problem is that Britain's way of funding educational innovation - through short-term grants, which may then be carried on locally, or not, - is unsuited to a programme designed to have a national structure and impact, and which ought to be at the heart of Government policies.