Extra staffing and resources, combined with a sharper focus on literacy, make a significant difference to primary 1 pupils, heads, class teachers and nursery nurses have confirmed in an early intervention pilot in Grangemouth.
A Northern College evaluation of Falkirk Council's pilot project in four primaries and a nursery is certain to hearten Scottish Office ministers who are gambling millions of pounds over the next four years on raising standards.
Pupils were more aware of print and more interested in emergent reading, writing and numeracy. They also showed higher skills in writing, story writing and retelling stories, made quicker progress through reading scheme books and improved levels in reading for information.
A nursery head commented: "There is a tremendous difference in attitude to writing and reading. At first we received comments like 'I can't write' or 'I can't do that' but after continuous praising they are so confident and independent. By introducing print in the environment, children recognised familiar words very quickly and used them when looking at books."
This readiness to read and write was highlighted by some staff as crucial in lifting achievement. Teachers and nursery nurses welcomed the chance to study the latest research and adapt practice.
Falkirk's approach concentrated on writing, listening and talking. Schools reported improvements to writing because of the extra adult in the classroom. They adopted the Foundations of Writing scheme and made "considerable changes in practice".
There was less progress in developing early reading skills which the researchers say may be because writing comes before reading for young children.
A key factor in the effectiveness of the project is the presence of nursery nurses in the primary 1 classes. They were able to hold one-to-one sessions and work with small groups.
One teacher said: "I do not believe that I would know my children as well or feel as confident in my assessment of them if I did not have the support and assistance of the nursery nurse. The superb results I have seen in the Foundation of Writing programme are in no small part due to the provision of the nursery nurse."