Divided on Reading Recovery's lsting impact

25th January 2008 at 00:00
At last an influential education publication has given space to an academic who doubts the efficacy of Reading Recovery. As Kevin Wheldall reports on the experience of Australia, where RR has a far greater hold than it does in the UK at present, we would do well to listen to him.

When the national literacy strategy (NLS) was devised, those on the advisory panel who advocated systematic, explicit phonics instruction were overruled, and we were given the lethal Searchlights, in which, though "phonics" played a part, children still failed to learn to read.

As Peter Tymms of Durham University has pointed out, even the apparent initial improvement in reading at the beginning of the NLS was made by children taught to read pre-NLS, and the initial gains soon flattened out to leave a consistent figure of around 20 per cent of children who left key stage 2 reading at below the expected level for their age. The figure was of sufficient concern to the Government to initiate the Rose review into the initial teaching of reading. But before Rose had reported his findings, Reading Recovery UK had obtained substantial funding from the KPMG Foundation charity as well as the go-ahead to introduce RR into schools.

While Rose was publishing his findings in a final report - that children learn to read best with systematic, explicit phonics instruction and that the Searchlights strategy was erroneous - the Government was announcing support and taxpayers' funding for RR. Was no effort made to examine the pedagogy on which the programme is based to ascertain it conformed to the conclusions and advice of the Rose report? It seems not.

The success of the new government guidance document "Letters and Sounds" is evident from a look at the TES early years online forum. A number of early years teachers are reporting better progress for all children than they have ever had before.

Maggie Downie, Literacy intervention asssistant, Bishop Barrington School, Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

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