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Strugglers receive less help in the classroom

Although reception teachers can accurately predict the children who will not do well, they actually give them less time Karen Thornton reports.

STRUGGLING young readers may be getting less help in the classroom than more able pupils, even though their teachers have identified them as most at risk of literacy difficulties.

Reception teachers know the children who will do well and those who won't, based on intuitive views of children's existing skills and parental support.

But Anthony Feiler, of Bath Spa University College, found in a small-scale research project that the "strugglers were being read to less in school than their more successful peers, according to home-school reading diaries.

Even after allowing for pupil absence rates, children predicted by teachers to do well averaged 4.3 weekly entries in their reading diaries from school, and 3.29 from home. The strugglers got only 2.92 at school and 1.54 at home, he told delegates at the International Special Education Congress in Manchester last week.

"It tends to be low-expectation children on the whole who get less support in the class than high-expectation children," said Mr Feiler.

One reason put forward by teachers was that children who struggled spent more time absent from school.

But Mr Feiler claimed too many teachers held stereotypical views of children's reaing abilities, often based on their knowledge of older siblings or the family, and information passed on by other teachers.

To try and ensure teachers' predictions, did not become self-fulfilling, Mr Feiler asked classroom assistants to make their own judgments, and got similar results.

There was no agreement among teachers about if and when early intervention programmes to support children with literacy difficulties should be used.

One said the strugglers needed more nursery-style play experiences, another that the parents needed educating.

But a third said it was important not to have fixed views about children's potential.

There was also a lack of planned, systematic intervention for the group identified as likely to have difficulties - although there were differences in the support given by individual teachers.

"More attention should be paid to teachers' intuitive judgments about children's potential for literacy development when intervention approaches are under consideration," said Mr Feiler.

His research was based on 66 reception children and seven teachers in four primary schools in the south-west of England.

Teachers predicted 17 children would be better than average readers, and 13 would be worse. Their judgments of baseline ability and subsequent progress after a year in school proved accurate.

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