Early learners close the gap

29th October 1999 at 01:00
EARLY intervention in Clackmannanshire primaries has not had the effect seen elsewhere of widening the gap between fast and slow learners. Virtually all children have made significant gains in reading and the rate of success increased in primary 2, according to the latest results from a project that now takes in all 19 of the authority's primaries.

Sandy Wilson, its head of lifelong learning, told councillors this week of the contrast between the Clackmannan experience and that of teachers involved in the national early literacy and numeracy programme.

Referring to an exclusive report in The TES Scotland of September 24, Mr Wilson said that evaluation of the national scheme "suggested the programme may not achieve the aim of increasing social inclusion by raising literacy standards among the most disadvantaged. This is not the case in Clackmannanshire."

He pointed out that many schools in areas of high free school meal entitlement were achieving the same levels of success as those elsewhere.

The Clackmannan programme centres on the use of a system of phonics to teach reading whereas the pound;60 million national programme puts more emphasis on placing extra adults in P1-P3 classrooms, Mr Wilson claimed.

The latest findings show that children in pilot schools who had been seven months ahead of their actual ages in March of primary 1, having learnt to read with the help of "synthetic phonics", were a full 12 months ahead in March of P2. Comprehension scores were equally impressive.

The second year of the initiative gives results for all 19 primaries, where the average gain in P1 was seven months, the same as in the pilot year.

Alison Lindsay, convener of the learning and leisure committee, said the programme had been "embraced enthusiastically by all schools at headteacher and classroom teacher level, because it focuses on high expectations and effective teaching and learning".

Mr Wilson said that whereas up to 30 per cent of pupils in some schools might have been operating at a reading level below that for their age, only a very few were now lagging behind. That allowed teachers, and where necessary the psychological service, to concentrate on their problems.

The Clackmannan programme, directed by Lesley Robertson, a council adviser, and Joyce Watson of St Andrews University, is now focusing on the needs of pupils in P3 and beyond. Mr Wilson said that the emphasis would turn from learning the "decoding" mechanics of reading to developing thinking skills.

Bright room, page 5

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