Early intervention boosts later success

14th December 2012 at 00:00
Reading Recovery dramatically improves literacy, a report shows. But funding cuts are endangering the programme

An early intervention scheme for young children struggling with reading and writing can have effects that last until the end of primary school, a report has revealed.

Reading Recovery is a short-term catch-up programme for children who have the lowest achievement in literacy learning after one year of school. Children are selected because they would otherwise not be expected to reach level 3, the level needed to read a tabloid newspaper, by the age of 11.

A report by the University of London's Institute of Education (IoE) found that 11-year-olds who received Reading Recovery at the age of 6 overturned that expectation and matched their classmates' progress for the following six years.

For the first time this year a sufficient number of former Reading Recovery children reached Year 6 to make a worthwhile analysis.

Defying expectations

Of the 374 children who completed daily one-to-one lessons with a specially trained teacher at the age of 6 - including those who did not achieve the programme's goals - and whose progress was tracked through primary school, 95 per cent reached level 3 or above in reading at age 11, and 78 per cent reached level 4 or above.

In writing, 98 per cent achieved level 3 or above and 69 per cent achieved level 4 or above.

Of those children who had been successful at the age of 6, all but one child reached level 3 or above in writing, and four out of five reached level 4 or above.

Julia Douetil, head of the European Centre for Reading Recovery at the IoE, argues that the data proves the programme can make a difference. "Schools have made huge improvements in literacy for most children," she says. "But the statistic of 7 per cent, or 30,000 children every year, failing to reach national curriculum level 3 at age 11 has been stubbornly resistant to change. We now have proof that, with the resources and the will to make it happen, Reading Recovery can lift that blight from their young shoulders."

Reading Recovery is widely used across the UK and Ireland, serving 127 local authoritiesdistricts and 1,775 schools from 67 regional centres. In 2011-12, almost 12,000 children took part in the scheme in England and Wales, and more than 3,000 did so in the Republic of Ireland. A further 7,775 children received a "lighter touch" intervention supported by a Reading Recovery teacher.

More than four in every five children (82 per cent) who completed the programme in 2011-12 were lifted to age-appropriate levels of literacy.

In key stage 1 reading national assessments, 77 per cent reached national curriculum level 2 or above, and 63 per cent achieved the same in writing - a substantial improvement on the previous year, when the respective figures were 74 per cent and 58 per cent.

The IoE report says this demonstrates that the quality of the implementation was maintained in spite of the uncertainties surrounding the future of Reading Recovery and Every Child a Reader.

Furthermore, 1,595 children were removed from the special educational needs register, while 130 children were identified early as requiring formal assessment.

Eighty-one per cent of disadvantaged children reached age-related expectations for literacy. They went from being two and a half times more likely to be among the lowest attaining to being within 2 percentage points of their peers.

But despite the positive findings, the future of Reading Recovery in England is uncertain due to government cutbacks. The removal of ring-fenced funding for education initiatives has been blamed for the first decline in the number of children served by the programme since data collection for the Every Child a Reader initiative began in 2006-07, when the government-financed roll-out took place in England.

In 2011-12 there were more than 9,000 fewer children across the whole implementation, a reduction of about 40 per cent. The number of Reading Recovery schools fell by almost 1,000, with schools citing budget restraints as their reason for withdrawing from the programme.

Reading Recovery Annual Report for the UK and the Republic of Ireland: 2011-12 is available at: readingrecovery.ioe.ac.ukreports37.html


Reading Recovery was developed in the 1970s by New Zealand educator Dr Marie Clay, and is now used worldwide.

It is a short-term programme for the children who have the lowest achievement in literacy learning after one year at school.

In the UK and Ireland it is targeted primarily at children who are around the age of 6 (after receptionfoundation stage) to capitalise on the advantages of early intervention.

Children are identified for the programme based on literacy levels, with the lowest-attaining given the highest priority. Because of this, a slightly higher proportion of boys are selected to take part in the programme than girls.

In 2011-12, nearly half (47 per cent) of the children in Reading Recovery came from economically disadvantaged homes.

Children are taught individually for 30 minutes each day, for an average of between 15 and 20 weeks, by a specially trained teacher.

As the programme is based on the needs of the child, what they know and what they need to learn next, it is likely to be different for each child.

The goal is for children to develop effective reading and writing strategies so that they can work within an average range of classroom performance.

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