Digest: Reading on the hour

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Nineteen ninety-eight is to be the National Year of Reading and schools across the country are gearing up for a sea change in the way they teach literacy. From September, primary schools will be expected to introduce the Government's structured literacy hour in every classroom, every day. To this end, Labour has earmarked #163;50 million for training, books and teaching assistants, with the greatest sum to be spent on those schools needing the most help.

The dedicated literacy hour is not mandatory, but schools inspectors will want to see it in use. It requires a mixture of whole-class teaching and group work, with a focus on comprehension and composition, grammar, spelling and vocabulary. Over the past year, its methodology has been piloted in 13 local authorities, and most teachers and heads have reacted with enthusiasm.

But the National Association of Head Teachers says the plan to implement it in all schools is "authoritarian" and fears it will be too prescriptive.

Michael Barber, head of the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit, says he expects at least 90 per cent of schools to adopt the literacy hour.

However, innovation and diversity will still be encouraged, as schools whose test results and Ofsted reports show they are doing well without it may carry on with their own methods.

The literacy hour is a key plank in the Government' s National Literacy Strategy, which was published last September. Nine regional co-ordinators have already been appointed, and 200 "literacy consultant s" will take up posts in local authorities next term to help schools update their skills. The strategy will involve:

- Training for heads, school

literacy co-ordinators and

dedicated literacy governors

- Three days' training for all

primary teachers

- Each school devising a two-year literacy action plan, running to the year 2000, with agreed improvement targets

- A National Year of Reading, to begin in September 1998, involving families and communities in transforming the nation's attitudes.

Labour's national target - 80 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching level 4 (the standard for their age) in national curriculum tests by 2002 - has been well publicised. In addition, each local authority has now got its own targets for 2002, ranging from 70 per cent to 90 per cent.

Michael Barber said: "If we hit the 80 per cent target it will be a huge achievement by primary teachers. But we still have to go beyond that."

A national numeracy strategy will follow, and the Government is likely to ask all teachers to conduct a structured numeracy lesson lasting 40 to 50 minutes each day beginning in September 1999.

The Government is now lightening national curriculum requirements to allow more time for the 3Rs.

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