Children whose parents are unemployed and pupils with special needs gain less from the literacy hour than other pupils, a report on the two-year national literacy project pilot has found. It also says that, while the literacy hour improves children's reading test results, girls benefit more than boys. Pupils with English as a second language also showed significant improvements.
The pilot, carried out between 1996 and 1998 in 250 schools that had literacy rates below the national average, was evaluated by the National Foundation for Educational Research to assess children's reading progress, their attitude to reading and whether the training and support given to them was adequate.
The NFER found that, in general, children's test scores improved beyond expectation in under two years' involvement in the project. While both boys and girls made significant progress, however, test scores for girls of all ages were higher than those for boys, representing around three or four months' gap in development.
There was also a disparity between socio-economic groups. Children eligible for free school meals had lower scores and made less progress than those whose families did not receive income support. In addition, children with special needs did less well than others. The gap widened with the severity of special needs.
While pupils at all levels who speak English as an additional language significantly improved their reading scores, those who were fairly fluent in English outstripped their peers who spoke English as their first language.
The study found that the most successful schools were managed by heads who were committed to the national literacy project and appointed key teachers who motivated and influenced their colleagues. However, a majority of heads reported some difficulties with staff competence and understanding, and some resistance to the project.
Evaluation of the National Literacy Project, Summary Report by Marian Sainsbury is published by the National Foundation for Education Research. Call 0845 6022260 for details and further information.