'Fantastic news for teachers';Interview;Michael Barber

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Today the national literacy strategy is published. Nadene Ghouri talks to the standards chief and details its main components

The national literacy strategy, published today is both "absolutely crucial" and "fantastic news for teachers", according to Michael Barber, the Government's standards chief.

"Crucial" because this is the framework on which the Government's ambitious targets - that 80 per cent of 11-year-olds reach level 4 or above in English by 2002 - rests upon. It is "fantastic" because it will apparently "underpin professionalism, take away a huge burden of planning and enable teachers to be creative."

And if anyone out there has no idea what the new strategy and accompanying framework is actually all about - don't worry. Because, according to Michael Barber, you will soon learn. From today primary schools are to be inundated with information, training and advice.

And as of September 1998, primary teachers had better know everything there is to know, because this is the programme they will be teaching for at least the next five years. In Department for Education and Employment-speak "this is the first time ever that every primary teacher in the country will understand and use good practice".

And as is now expected from New Labour, no dissidents or slackers are allowed. "This is the way it's going to be", says Professor Barber. "A few people still want to hang on to old debates. That's just a little bit boring.

"What teachers have been waiting for is detail and now they've got it. I'm sure some people will say the framework is too prescriptive, but I think the majority of teachers will realise this allows them to develop real creativity and professionalism without having to worry about the added burden of planning. For years and years primary teachers have been criticised for the way they teach reading. But then nobody ever said to them: 'Here's the best practice, based on solid international research and experience. If you use it your children will make progress'."

The Government describes the national strategy as the final conclusion which draws together the national literacy project, the experience of schools in the pilot study and extensive research from English-speaking countries including Australia, New Zealand the United States.

The strategy will be posted to schools from today. A follow-up training pack will be sent out around Easter. Between then and September all headteachers, literacy co-ordinators and literacy appointed governors will get at least two days training from local authority literacy consultants.

Between September 1998 and September 1999, headteachers and co-ordinators will be expected to have spent at least three days training teaching staff. Teacher-training colleges will have the strategy on the curriculum from September. Schools furthest from the 2002 target can apply to their education authorities for extra training time, as will schools with headteachers on sick leave or those with no full-time literacy co-ordinator.

The DFEE estimates that up to 40 per cent of all primary schools will need such support. However, Professor Barber says: "We'll monitor the training and if we discover more is needed, we'll do more. This is, to my knowledge, the most systematic and ambitious programme of teacher training ever envisaged in this country. That is a demonstration of our commitment to raising standards. We certainly won't let it fail."

KS1 and KS2: Reviewing, reflecting, consolidating teaching points and presenting work covered in the lesson

KS1: Independent work, while the teacher works with at least two ability groups each day on guided text work (reading or writing)

KS2: Independent work while the teacher works with at least one ability group each day on guided text work

KS1 and KS2: Shared text work (a balance of reading and writing)

KS1: Focused word work

KS2: A balance over the term of focused word work orsentence work

THE PACK REPRESENTS the first time the Government has laid out exactly how it expects the literacy hour to be implemented. The format is designed to provide a practical structure for time and class management. In short, while the framework provides details of what should be taught, literacy hour is supposed to be the means of teaching it.

Why an hour? The teaching of English is currently allocated about five hours per week. The pack suggests 180 hours at KS1 and 167 hours at KS2 in a 36-week year. However, the Department for Education and Employment has long been keen to standardise how literacy is taught. And according to the pack successful teachers do it by being:

* discursive - characterised by quality oral work;

* interactive - pupils' contributions are encouraged, expected and extended;

* well-paced - there is a sense of urgency, driven by the need to make progress and succeed;

* confident - teachers have a clear understanding of the objectives; * ambitious - creating an atmosphere of optimism about and high expectations of success.


* Read and write with confidence, fluency and understanding;

* orchestrate a full range of reading cues (phonic, graphic, syntactic, contextual) to monitor their reading and correct mistakes;

* understand the sound and spelling system and use this to read and spell accurately;

* have fluent and legible handwriting;

* have an interest in words and their meanings and a growing vocabulary;

* know, understand and be able to write in a range of genres in fiction and poetry;

* understand, use and write a range of non-fiction texts;

* plan, draft, revise and edit their own writing;

* have a suitable technical vocabulary to understand and discuss their reading and writing;

* be interested in books;

* through reading and writing, develop their powers of imagination, inventiveness and critical awareness.

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