Cost of literacy scheme slammed by think tank

6th February 2009 at 00:00
At Pounds 5,000 per pupil, Every Child a Reader is twice as expensive as originally predicted

It will cost twice as much to implement the Every Child a Reader scheme as government-commissioned accountants predicted, a report from Policy Exchange claims.

The conclusions, published by the right-wing think tank, suggest the cost per child of the remedial reading scheme will be more than Pounds 5,000, rather than the Pounds 2,400 figure originally calculated.

Every Child a Reader is designed to tackle illiteracy in primary schools. The majority of money allocated to the project will be spent on Reading Recovery, an intense, one-on-one remedial programme for six-year-olds. This can continue for up to 20 weeks, after which any pupils still struggling are referred on for specialist help.

The accountants KPMG calculated the national cost of Reading Recovery at Pounds 2,389 per pupil. But Policy Exchange contends that this is merely the cost to the school, and does not include administration and training costs.

To determine the full amount, the think tank's researchers relied on figures published by Nottinghamshire Council. These suggest that Reading Recovery will cost Pounds 5,460 per pupil for 2009-10. This will reduce slightly, to Pounds 5,282, the following year. But, since 20 per cent of pupils on the scheme are referred for specialist help, the cost for every successful intervention would be Pounds 6,625.

On average, a Year 1 cohort includes 600,000 pupils nationally. About 16 per cent of these pupils fail to reach the expected standard by the age of seven.

Their problems range considerably in severity. A third will require less- intensive remedial programmes. This leaves two-thirds, or 62,000 children a year, who will be given Reading Recovery. Therefore, the annual cost of implementing Reading Recovery nationally would be Pounds 327.5m.

But Chris Davis, of National Primary Headteachers, questions the validity of these figures.

"It's a bit of nonsense to extrapolate figures in that way," he said. "If you look at the cost of individual support for special needs pupils, it would be extremely expensive, but no one would question that it's worthwhile."

The report also suggests that there is no effective method of testing reading ability. It claims that existing tests are "opaque, complex and time consuming".

Instead, it recommends introducing a reading test at the age of eight. Unlike today's tests, these would measure only pupils' ability to identify words, rather than their skill at reading comprehension.

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