THE pound;60 million early intervention programme continues to make important gains in boosting attainment in literacy and numeracy, according to the Government's second annual report.
The next challenge, to be explored at a conference later this month, will be how to keep the momentum going, in particular to ensure that the gains made are not lost during the later stages of primary and into secondary.
A national evaluation of the programme is being carried out by Moray House Institute and an interim report is due on ministers' desks in December. HMI is to report this month on its first round of early intervention inspections.
Early intervention has differed from other national programmes such as the 5 14 and Higher Still reforms in giving local authorities considerable discretion on how they spend the money and on the shape of the initiative.
The annual report from the Scottish Executive Education Department says this has led to a variety of innovative approaches. "The programme has significantly raised the expectations of teachers and parents about what children can achieve . . . children's own attitudes towards reading have in many cases been transformed."
A progress report from North Ayrshire notes: "All pupils have shown improvement in reading with some pupils now reading at 12 months beyond their chronological age."
Stirling says: "A variety of actions have resulted in raised achievement, although children's enjoyment is by far the most commonly mentioned feature."
Among the issues to be pursued is whether these improvements are being wrought by early intervention alone or by other programmes that influence early attainment.
The Executive report shows that authorities have expanded early intervention considerably in the past year, many moving on from tackling reading to early writing and numeracy. The programme led to the recruitment of 303 teaching and non-teaching staff in 1998-99.
Home-school link projects were a feature of early intervention in 29 of the 32 local authorities, involving 475 schools and more than 9,000 parents. A further pound;15million from the Executive's excellence fund is being pumped into improving these links over the next three years.
Thirteen authorities have trained primary 1 and 2 staff only in targeted schools while 19 have trained all primary 1 and2 staff. Training and course content varied and staff are allowed to use their own teaching techniques in most authorities.
The report says that early intervention has been crucially reinforced by pre-school expansion and all but one of the authorities have used Government funding to improve the transfer of information about pupils from nursery to primary.