Blair promises to reach targets

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Labour's determination to meet literacy and numeracy targets was stressed by Tony Blair at last week's education summit at Number 10, writes Geraldine Hackett.

The Prime Minister told his audience of mainly headteachers and academics that the Government would be judged against targets set for the next five years.

The debate ranged over the strategies required to raise standards in the lowest 20 per cent of schools, action to improve teaching and ways to tackle the problems of filling headship posts.

David Winkley, head of The Grove school in Birmingham, outlined the system of accelerated learning at his school, and William Atkinson, head of Phoenix school in west London, set out the policies that were required to take his school off the failing schools list.

According to Professor Peter Mortimore, director of the Institute for Education at London University, the seminar raised the key questions about raising standards.

After the summit, he said: "We have to decide whether the target of improving the worst 20 per cent of schools is realistic. It can be achieved - not by bullying schools but by capturing the imagination of teachers.

"The importance attached to the task is clear in that Mr Blair was prepared to go ahead with the summit at a time when momentous events were taking place. "

Others at the seminar included the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead; Tim Brighouse, chief education officer in Birmingham and David Mallen, chief education officer for East Sussex.

TES september 12 1997 The happy student: Vicky Johnson, 11, pauses for thought at the Literacy Summer School at Northcliffe Comprehensive, Doncaster. The classes have won teachers' praise for improving their pupils' attitudes to work through boosting their self-esteem and confidence Warm praise for summer of literacy The Government's summer of literacy may not have dramatically improved pupils' reading prowess - but it has done wonders for their attitude, according to teachers.

Most organisers of the summer schools expect that reading tests will not reveal any significant changes in children's achievement, but feel the activity has raised confidence and self-esteem. Formal results will be published by the National Foundation for Educational Research in November.

Sponsorship from a number of companies - including News International, which publishes The TES - allowed 50 secondary schools to take part in the literacy scheme. The selected pupils - children entering secondary school this September with a reading age up to two years less than expected of them - were given 50 hours' tuition during their holidays.

The scheme organisers said the summer schools were a wonderful opportunity for children to receive individual tuition using new books and software donated by companies. The attendance was high and the children said they enjoyed the experience. However, there was concern that the children chosen were in any case the most likely to improve and the ones that did best of all were those with supportive parents.

At Ribbleton Hall School in Lancashire, scheme co-ordinator Keith Hassall said: "It is unreasonable to expect 100 per cent of the children to read better. Some children will improve and some will stay where they are, but reading levels are just part of the story.

"It is their feelings and impressions which are important. At the end of the scheme they showed a greater willingness to read and less hesitation in tackling reading."

Out of 31 children on the reading scheme at Thomas Tallis school in Greenwich, London, 19 had improved their reading age by between six months and two years by the end of the summer school. Seven children remained at the same level, while five children went down three months.

Richard Stubbs, who helped to run the scheme, was not disappointed. He said: "Obviously we want all children to progress massively, but that's not realistic. It takes a lot for some to progress.

"The scheme has however tremendously improved their confidence. They have read lots of books, and dictionaries have become part of their everyday life. It also meant that the transition to secondary school held no fears for them. "

At Gilesgate school in Durham 31 children attended, of whom 12 improved by between three months and a year, 13 remained at the same level while six went down two months.

At Grange upper school in Bradford two-thirds progressed by between six months to one year. At Allertonshire school in North Yorkshire, headteacher Jim Smith said he believed the pupil:teacher ratio meant the pupils felt valued and important.

He said: "I am uncertain as to what testing will show in the short-term, but I have little doubt that the long-term advantages to these pupils will prove that the money was well spent.

"If the scheme has done nothing more than prevent or slow the regression which usually takes place over the summer break then it will have been worth it."

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