Around 500 schools are to test an intensive programme which requires teaching assistants to do 20 minutes a day of extra work with six and seven-year-olds with early reading problems.
The strategy is designed to prepare the way for the Government to set a higher literacy target than its current promise that by 2002 80 per cent of 11-year-olds will be reading and writing.
Teachers are being trained to identify the 20 per cent of children who could be given intensive support to prevent them falling behind. Teaching assistants will the take the group for a 12-week programme using specially prepared material.
Kevan Collins, regional director of the national literacy strategy, said: "We think that intervention at this stage will reduce the number of children who need longer term support."
Ministers have already ann-ounced plans to recruit 20,000 teaching assistants by 2001, the year the pilot is expected to become a national progamme. The proportion of 11-year-olds achieving the expected standard in literacy has increased dramatically since the strategy was introduced. Last year 70 per cent reached level 4, an improvement of 5 per cent. However, standards among seven-year-olds have remained fairly static.