Case study: Kobi Nazrul primary, east London

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
At Kobi Nazrul we follow the Ruth Miskin Literacy programme - or RML as it's known. We're a school of around 230 pupils, nearly all of whom are of Bengali origin. For many of them, English is not their first language, but since we started the programme, we've never had a child leave the school without being able to read. That's something we're proud of. But the background of our children makes no difference to the way we teach literacy; the basics apply to every child.

The most important thing we do is to set the whole school for literacy, so it's taught in mixed-age groups. It means no one is ever in a situation of not being able to cope. Children are assessed on a termly basis, but we move them from group to group as required. If someone is ready to move up a group, we don't wait until the end of term, we slot them into another group there and then. If someone goes to Bangladesh for six weeks, they may go into a different group when they get back, for a refresher.

The RML programme is a commonsense approach. It's based around phonemes and graphemes. The children start by learning the 44 basic sounds, then they move on to identifying graphemes, where different groups of letters produce the same sounds. The books we use focus on the letters or sounds the children have been learning - for example, when we learn the "ay" sound, they read a book called Play Day in which that phoneme is used often. When we've finished with a book in class the children keep it and take it home, so they can use it again. Every fourth day is a writing day, which is also linked to what they've been reading.

But however good a system is, it's still going to need tailoring to each individual. That's where your professional skills as a teacher come in.

Some children learn best by listening, others by looking, so you have to know your class well. But that's true of teaching any subject; you can't just let the programme do the work.

The RML programme was developed here at Kobi Nazrul. Ruth Miskin, who was head for many years, wanted an alternative to the national literacy strategy. Now her ideas are used in more than 200 primary schools, and she's developed a programme for secondary pupils who are struggling to read.

I've worked in schools that follow the national literacy strategy, but I'm not sure I'd want to do so again. It's restrictive, rather than flexible, it requires lots of planning - and it's also rather boring. I've come on in leaps and bounds as a teacher since I've been working here.

Every teacher at the school is trained to deliver the whole programme, and that includes teaching assistants. Any teacher here could walk into any class, at any stage of the programme, and start teaching. The programme is constantly being updated, but we have regular professional development to keep up with any changes - and someone from the programme comes in regularly to monitor what we do.

If you can't read, you can't access other parts of the curriculum. And being able to read is vital to a child's confidence. All of the teachers here believe in what we're doing. Nine of my Year 1s are at least six months ahead of themselves, and it's a similar story right through the school. Our key stage 1 Sats results this year are 100 per cent level 2 and above - only two children were level 2C. But the bottom line is that everyone who leaves here is able to read, so we must be getting it right.

Emma Beattie Emma Beattie is a Year 1 class teacher at Kobi Nazrul primary school in Tower Hamlets, LondonRML

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