Basics can be achieved by all

30th January 1998 at 00:00
BASIC SKILLS SUPPORT IN SCHOOLS. Jane Curle. Basic Skills Agency Pounds 6.

DEVELOPING LITERACY Basic Skills Agency Pounds 15

Available from The Basic Skills Agency, Commonwealth House, 1-19 New 0xford Street, London WC1A 1NU

In launching the Social Exclusion Unit, the Prime Minister reiterated many conclusions found in It Doesn't Get Any Better, a report published by the Basic Skills Agency last June. Its research contained stark findings about the relationship between poor basic skills and disadvantage in the labour market and social exclusion. Basic Skills Support in Schools and Developing Literacy address that scenario as an urgent matter.

Both books are intended for subject-based teachers across the curriculum at key stages 3 and 4. Their starting point is the agency's definition of basic skills as the desired and achievable target, namely: "The ability to read, write and speak English and use mathematics at a level necessary to function and progress at work and in society in general."

Clear enough; likewise the responsibility of all teachers to help students (of whatever ability) acquire those skills. Not, however, in pedagogic isolation. Jane Curle, in particular, emphasises liaison and sharing (teachers, schools, parents, educational psychologists, et al).

Co-operation is one theme of Basic Skills Support in Schools. Another urges the celebration of successes, however small. Both resurface across sections concerned with: teaching contexts; opportunities for developing skills; differentiation; assessment; the Code of Practice and resources. The guidance is wide-ranging, incorporating sample documentation (for example audit forms) and follows its own style with minimal jargon.

Bullet-pointed key ideas, tips, "do's" (a few "don'ts") and checklists aid clarity and avoid textual - and teacher - overload. The book's relative brevity accords with its practicality and instead of glib solutions, recognition that "finding time is always a problem".

That difficulty is one reason why Developing Literacy, an in-service training course, has flexible models of delivery. Designed by eight practitioners "at the sharp end", its four main units include classroom observation, methodology, and strategies to improve reading, writing, spelling and punctuation. It is especially impressive on planning and delivering schemes of work and the suitability of materials. The help with worksheets (purpose, use, readability factors, simplification, etc) exemplifies the course's comprehensive, unfussy approach.

Like the Exclusion Unit, the success of these publications depends on "joined-up solutions for joined-up problems". Without whole-school collaboration, their impact is reduced. Sadly, in a wider climate of competition and "shaming", the traditional turf war mentality among departments is not their only obstacle.

Brian Slough is former head of Kettering Boys' School, Northamptonshire

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