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Reading gains for all

Active Literacy has given a particular boost to pupils at the lower end of the ability range

North Lanarkshire's literacy strategy is showing significant gains, particularly with struggling readers, according to new statistics.

Three years after the first phase of the council's Active Literacy programme was launched with 10 primary schools, P3 pupils have been assessed as five months ahead in their reading, compared with a control group.

The proportion of struggling readers - those who recorded the lowest reading scores - was significantly reduced after three years of the intervention. Only 2.3 per cent in the active literacy group had a reading age of a year below their actual age, compared to 12.5 per cent in the control group, who followed traditional reading schemes and teaching methods.

Reading gains also applied to more able pupils. The figures, released by Trish Wilson, quality improvement officer, and Nancy Ferguson, senior educational psychologist, who have been leading the Active Literacy programme, show that 72 per cent of the children in the experimental group had average or above-average reading scores, compared to 52 per cent in the control group.

The proportion of top-scoring P3 pupils - those who had a reading age of nine years and over - was also biggest in the experimental group: 13.9 per cent compared to 10.5 per cent.

The strategy puts an emphasis on active, multi-sensory tasks which encourage pupils to work co-operatively, teaching each other and thus reinforcing their own learning, alongside whole-class instruction by the teacher. Reading and writing are emphasised across the curriculum.

Worksheets and low-level tasks have been virtually cast to one side, and traditional reading schemes are just one of a number of tools. Teachers have been given intensive training and been involved in trialling and modifying the materials.

Miss Wilson, who led the design of the programme, including creating North Lanarkshire's own set of Traditional Tales, shies away from making claims of "eradicating illiteracy", as West Dunbartonshire has done. She is, however, "encouraged".

Until three years ago, Holytown Primary, near Motherwell, was "stuck" on a score of 77 per cent of pupils across the school meeting 5-14 writing targets. This year it is expected to reach 91 per cent. Its reading score has made a similar leap - from 79 per cent to 91 per cent.

Morag Johnson, Holytown's headteacher, attributes the shift to new teaching strategies, hard work and the fact that pupils are "writing every single day".

Christine Boyle, depute head of Sacred Heart Primary, in Bellshill, has seen a less dramatic increase in attainment, because her school traditionally scored well. But her pupils have been meeting their targets one to two terms earlier since joining phase two of the programme.

See page 4; Leader page 24.

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