THE Education Minister used the platform of her "summit" meeting this week with 17 primary heads to launch a fulsome Scottish Office progress report on the first year of the Government's Pounds 60 million early intervention programme.
The interim findings echo those reported by education authorities in recent weeks. Helen Liddell said the initiative, which was expanded from three to five years in April, had "struck a chord" with schools and parents by shifting the focus on to the basic literacy and numeracy skills.
The report confirms that the programme is improving team approaches in schools by combining the talents of teachers, nursery nurses and learning support staff. Staff development has helped schools pay attention to how children learn to read.
The importance now attached to the transition from pre-school to primary is also identified as another benefit, one spin-off from which will be forthcoming Scottish Office guidance on the assessment of children in primary 1. Preliminary work has been taking place for the pre-school and primary 1 stages, and a report on these baseline assessment pilots will be published later this month.
More than 44,000 children in 700 schools have taken part in the first year of early intervention. Some 4,200 teachers underwent staff development and 3,300 were given additional support to deal with special educational needs.
Resources in the first year amounted to Pounds 7 million. This was used to fund the full-time equivalent of 31 class teachers, 158 nursery nurses, 69 learning support teachers, 55 classroom assistants, 10 educational psychologists, and 37 home-school link staff. More than Pounds 900,000 was spent on classroom resources and materials.
While the report stresses that "over-firm conclusions" cannot be reached at this early stage, it adds that "the positive impact on expectation is of crucial importance".
The Government now wants the expanded scheme to give every primary 1 and primary 2 teacher the opportunity of training in literacy and numeracy work, with more emphasis on numeracy. It also wants extra support for home-school links and for helping parents help children's learning.
Schools that are underperforming in reading and numeracy will be targeted.
The Inspectorate will report on best practice in 41 schools next June when a national seminar on early intervention will be held. The Scottish Office has also commissioned a research evaluation by a team from Moray House and KPMG chartered accountants.