Get it right with analysis and knowledge

14th May 2010 at 01:00

Your editorial (April 30) misunderstood the argument we presented to the Scottish Teacher Education Committee's conference. We did not claim that teachers routinely ignore socio-economic status and gender, simply that they need research-informed advice about how to address them.

These are the two biggest factors impacting on literacy achievement in Scotland, but teachers and schools can do much to mitigate their effects by framing their teaching content and adapting pedagogy in specific ways.

Our point is that getting the right literacy learning mix for a school requires informed analysis, coupled with specific knowledge about what works, when, and for whom.

There is reliable research about the pedagogies and content likely to work most efficiently for different groups and in different contexts, but it is not easily available to teachers. In the absence of such knowledge, schools waste money and energy on new schemes and resources whose impact quickly fades.

The issue is one of how literacy policy emerges and plays out in schools, and of how research should inform this. Uninformed responses may appear logical but have counter-productive effects. For example, research shows that creating a literacy curriculum or reading lists for boys tends to accentuate rather than narrow the gender gaps in attainment.

This is not about "taking account of pupils' backgrounds in looking for solutions to the problems", as your editorial states. Nor is it about how teachers are taught. It is about the mechanisms that exist in Scotland for teachers to access up-to-date research knowledge so that all children experience a curriculum that promotes efficient learning.

In our paper, we simply asked why there is no coherent or focused advice available, and argued that this was important if the flexibility within Curriculum for Excellence is to be used to good effect.

Sue Ellis and Vivienne Smith, department of childhood and primary studies, Strathclyde University.

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