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The secret of my success

Struggling readers at Albany High are so keen to continue their Catch Up sessions, they don't want Miss to know they're doing so well. Diana Hinds reports

The hardest thing about the Catch Up reading programme for Jenny Powell, a teaching assistant, is when she has to tell pupils the sessions are coming to an end because they have made so much progress. One Year 8 boy with reading difficulties is so keen to continue that he begs the teaching assistant: "Don't tell Miss that I'm doing well".

Ms Powell, who works at Albany High in the London borough of Enfield, has been working one-to-one with struggling readers since January, taking them out of lessons for two highly structured 15-minute slots a week.

"They're keen to get that individual attention, which they don't usually get," she says. Her Year 8 pupil has grown significantly in confidence and now feels able to ask for help in other lessons. "He has developed strategies for reading that he didn't have before. He's realised there are chunks of words which he can sound out, or he'll read for meaning and come back to a word he was stuck on. He doesn't want to stop because he's experiencing success - but there are lots of other readers who need help, too."

The Catch Up secondary school programme was developed by Dee Reid, a former teacher and specialist in primary literacy, and Diana Bentley, a former teacher who became a university researcher into how children learn to read.

It was in response to requests from secondaries who had heard of the success of the scheme in primaries.

Secondary schools wanted something similar for their own struggling readers. Seven per cent of pupils enter secondary school below national curriculum level 3 in English, which means they have enormous difficulty accessing the key stage 3 curriculum.

The secondary programme is aimed at pupils in Years 7 and 8 who are working at national curriculum levels 1 or 2 or borderline level 3. Some may have special needs, or behaviour problems which make it difficult to learn in group situations.

Catch Up was introduced in primary schools in 1988, , and is now in operation in more than 4,000 primaries, with the backing of more than 50 local authorities. Many primary pupils on the programme have been found to make more than double the normal rate of progress.

At the heart of the scheme is a tightly-structured, twice-weekly, one-to-one literacy session, delivered by a teacher or (frequently) a teaching assistant. In primary schools each session lasts for 10 minutes.

This has been increased to 15 minutes in secondaries, partly because older pupils need more time to discuss and reflect on the text and partly because there is more reluctance at this age for the teacher to overcome.

There are no set Catch Up texts, but schools - with help from Catch Up - grade their existing titles, fiction and non-fiction, into a number of reading levels. At the start of the programme, the teacher or teaching assistant assesses the pupil and selects appropriate books: not too easy, not too challenging.

Recording and monitoring each session is a crucial part of the programme, and each pupil is assessed again later in the year. In the Catch Up secondary pilot, Year 7 and 8 pupils, after an average period of 10 months, showed a reading age gain of 22 months and a comprehension age gain of 28 months.

Hampshire took part in the pilot and Sue Stares, general inspector and adviser for special needs, is pleased with the results so far, even if finding appropriate texts is not always easy.

"It's punchy, it's reading and writing joined together and there's not a worksheet in sight, which I love. You can't just lift it off the shelf; it's teaching and active learning."

She emphasises how important it is for Catch Up to be a collaboration between English and SEN and educational psychology teams. "It has to be collaborative; otherwise you won't get pupils applying their learning across the curriculum."

Naomi Frisby, literacy co-ordinator at Darton high school in Barnsley, also involved in the pilot, says that the scheme fills a gap. "It's motivating for the pupils," she says. "They're now contributing more in other lessons and telling me that they're not scared of reading aloud in class, which is as important to me as reading test results"

15 minutes to catch up

The first three minutes are prepared reading. The teacher introduces the main ideas or basic plot of the book, plus any tricky vocabulary.

For the next six minutes, the pupil reads, the teacher notes down errors and they talk about the book.

The final six minutes focus on a linked writing activity. The teacher chooses a word that caused problems and helps practise spelling it and using it in a sentence.

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