An alarmed appeal;Letter

1st October 1999 at 01:00
I am no expert in reading and writing, and so have hesitated for some time to enter the debate on early intervention literacy programmes. But I have become increasingly concerned about the apparent conflict between some aspects of these programmes and recent research on brain development.

Your report on the HMI early intervention project (September 24) finally alarmed me sufficiently to write to appeal for more detailed investigation and public discussion of all the relevant issues, before more resources are diverted into what might well be counter-productive activities.

I must emphasise that I strongly support early intervention language experiences which respect developmental readiness of children's brains.

But the part of the brain responsible for formal reading and writing operations typically does not start to mature until about seven years. Up to that point it is more natural for it to deal with whole pictures, rhythm and emotion rather than detailed linear processing.

This may well explain why the Edinburgh University study on early literacy found that high achievers (with more mature brains) gain most from formal early language experiences.

It also explains why countries such as Denmark and Ireland, where language programmes respect natural brain development, have notably high rates of literacy.

It's surely inappropriate, to say the least, to emphasise a target such as "making good attempts at accurate spelling and punctuation" for children whose brains are not yet ready for these activities.

It seems a bit like trying to get babies to stand and walk before they've learnt to sit and crawl!

Colin Weatherley Quality Learning Consultancy Gullane, East Lothian

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today