A reading scheme has helped some children to jump two year groups. Felicity Waters reports
A scheme to improve reading skills in one of Wales's poorest areas has seen some children catch up three years in just nine months, according to teachers.
The "catch-up" technique, developed by a literacy charity, is being used in schools across Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) to help primary schoolchildren who are falling behind in their reading.
More than 1,500 children have now benefited from the 15 minutes of extra one-to-one tuition twice a week, thanks to special funding from the Basic Skills Agency. And with average gains in reading age of 21 months in a nine-month period, the scheme has now been developed to help pupils who need maths support.
"I've seen children go up two or three years in just one school year with this scheme," said Elaine Williams, head of Parc Lewis primary in Pontypridd.
"The impact of 30 minutes of extra time is amazing and I have seen a huge difference in ability and confidence. Some children may only be behind by a few months, but if you intervene early it stops that child getting further behind."
The 15 minutes with a teaching assistant is tightly structured and allows children to talk about what they have read and identify problems with vocabulary.
Staff, who have been specially trained by the local education authority, take sessions at the beginning of the week while the individual schools match the funding for another session at the end of the week.
Over the past three years, RCT's education department has introduced the scheme to 108 of its 130 schools, with a pound;120,000-a-year grant designed to improve literacy. Teachers say that spending just 30 minutes a week out of the main classroom to improve children's reading skills also benefits learning in other subjects such as English and science.
"In the interview for the scheme, at the beginning of the year, children will often say they can't read and they don't like it. But at the end of the year they start asking to take their reading books home," said Ms Williams.
RCT has just launched a pilot project for a similar "catch-up" scheme in maths, and Parc Lewis is one of four primary schools taking part. Pupils in Year 3 who need extra support are being put into groups of six and will get an extra 45 minutes a week of teaching for a whole year.
"It's all about plugging gaps in their knowledge at an early stage to stop them slipping behind," said Emma Coates, RCT's project co-ordinator for catch-up literacy and maths.
"In the maths sessions it's all hands-on, using games and real money to explain concepts that perhaps they wouldn't have grasped in class," she said.
Melanie Henshaw, who ran the catch-up literacy scheme for three years, is now back in the classroom. She says: "The gains in nine months of tuition have been phenomenal."