Alarm bell literacy

7th March 2003 at 00:00
POLITICIANS are at their most dangerous when they are driven into a panic.

This week's announcement by the Education Minister that she is to set up literacy projects in all 32 authorities to ensure secondary schools and their local primaries get their act together could be seen as an alarmist response to the reports from HMI and the Assessment of Achievement Programme. The AAP findings are not uniformly depressing, although there are undoubted weaknesses and no dramatic breakthroughs.

Teachers, inevitably, will see this as yet another initiative. Cathy Jamieson may well protest that she had improved literacy and numeracy in her sights in any case, so she was not panicked; her intentions, it is true, were flagged up in her response to the national education debate. But the danger with these and other projects is that they will be seen as a further discredited top-down initiative imposed from the centre.

It is always worth pointing out that the major lesson to be learnt from the early intervention programme, as recent results from Aberdeen, Glasgow and (now) Clackmannanshire have demonstrated, is that it was a strategy seen by teachers to make sense and therefore they made it work. The Clackmannanshire verdict on the teaching of synthetic phonics (page one) is another illustration of the fact that ownership matters as much as partnership. It is being enthusiastically embraced in all the council's primaries.

The other lesson for the minister is to be patient, even in the fevered climate of a pre-election period. Reforms take time: the successes of early intervention have taken more than six years to bear fruit.

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