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Teachers urged not to write off literacy hour

THE MANDATORY literacy hour in primaries south of the border is not the "strait-jacket" critics claimed it would be, John Stannard, director of the National Literacy Project, told 300 Scottish teachers on Monday.

Addressing an early literacy conference at St Andrew's College, Bearsden, Mr Stannard said children and teachers liked the extra focus on reading and writing, and it was beginning to produce results.

"There is a huge and very powerful consensus about the importance of literacy, the important elements of it and how it should be taught. The national literacy strategy has brought it together in an important way," he said.

Mr Stannard backed the strict Government regime and said pupils who couldn't read fluently by the time they left primary risked being "socially disabled" and "social victims". Children who acquired early literacy skills had a large cognitive advantage.

Teaching in the allocated time was often exciting, interactive and discursive. "It is not driven by the clock but by the teachers' objectives. It is the kind of teaching that generates control for children over their reading and writing," Mr Stannard said.

Pupils now spent far more time being taught by the teacher. Around 75 per cent of the hour was in contact with the teacher, either via whole-class or group teaching. The idea that the teacher had to spend time with each pupil individually had now gone.

He believed the framework and strategy laid out for teachers removed the wide variations in practice across the country and relieved teachers of endless planning and writing of schemes.

"When we started the literacy strategy quite a lot of teachers thought their autonomy was being eroded and we were interfering with their ability to plan the curriculum. But in the last two terms that is not the view teachers are taking," Mr Stannard said.

"Broadly, teachers are saying, 'thank heavens somebody has done this for us and we do not have to keep rewriting schemes of work'."

Mr Stannard believed there had been a "palpable shift" in teachers' views from content to methods, which was a key project aim. Margaret Sutherland, a St Andrew's College lecturer and researcher into early literacy across Scotland, admitted some elements of the strategy in England could be picked up but stressed the non-prescriptive approach north of the border.

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