Glasgow has declared war on pupil underachievement by backing a literacy campaign that will embrace pupils from pre-five through to the second year of secondary school. Up to 12 pilot schemes will start in August and strategies for early intervention could be in place across the city in two years.
The city council accepts that it may be forced to redeploy teachers from areas of priority treatment and switch the emphasis on spending from secondary to primary. Staff development and programmes to keep teachers up to date on reading approaches will be at the heart of the initiative.
While Glasgow will not emulate Edinburgh and Dundee in employing nursery nurses to work beside teachers in infant classes, it does not rule this out in the longer term.
The council's education committee was yesterday (Thursday) expected to set aside its troubled school closures programme and ratify the reading retrieval scheme. In some disadvantaged areas of the city one in10 pupils leave primary school with reading difficulties and are unable to cope with the secondary curriculum.
A paper for the committee notes: "Early reading problems can initiate a causal chain of effects, leading to underachievement, demotivation and possibly truancy and associated difficult behaviour."
The programme will focus on four stages: help for four to eight-year-olds; reading for meaning in primary 4 and primary 5; a fresh-start approach in the first two years of secondary school; and parental support for reading at all ages.
Psychologists will assess reading levels among children in primary 3 and primary 4 to set a baseline for judging progress. The audit will also review literacy policies and practices, assessment procedures and reading strategies and their effectiveness. It will examine reading schemes and the use of phonics, support materials, paired reading and peer tutoring.
Parents will be targeted by leaflets, workshops, training and family literacy projects to help them improve their own reading skills.
Ronnie O'Connor, senior depute director of education, commented: "The evidence is that remediation as a tactic is not working and we have got to get at the problem early on. But we can only take this forward with parental involvement. "
Learning support staff are likely to be redirected to the task of reading support.
Mr O'Connor said that headteachers were aware of the latest research on reading and local initiatives already under way in places like Easterhouse and Govan. He will chair a steering group of heads, teachers, psychologists, advisers, nursery nurses and librarians. Four other working groups will monitor each key stage and establish how to resource the initiative.
Maire Whitehead, headteacher of St Mirin's primary and Glasgow convener of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, said: "If we spent a bit less time on expressive arts and environmental studies and put it into literacy and numeracy we would get on an awful lot better."
Mrs Whitehead said reading difficulties were not confined to disadvantaged areas, a point accepted by the council in its revised strategy.