Good news on early readers

24th March 2006 at 00:00
For the past nine years, early intervention has been a prime focus of educational policy and is now seen to be paying off. If the basic ingredient for success in school is success in early reading, then West Dunbartonshire is to be commended for its remarkable efforts in attempting to eradicate illiteracy in the second poorest Scottish authority. Estimates suggest as many as 40 per cent in some of the poorest areas leave school without the basic literacy levels they need to survive in adult society.

That will no longer be true in West Dunbartonshire after its multi-dimensional attack on reading. No one is allowed to slip through the reading net, and individual failure is met with one-to-one tuition further up primary and into secondary.

The authority is also to be commended for its frankness when it admits that each year hundreds of primary children left without the literacy skills they needed for secondary school. Something was going wrong somewhere before the latest initiative took hold, not that anyone could admit it.

The West Dunbartonshire story should make education feel good about itself.

Investment from the Scottish Executive pump-primed early intervention, the authority set an ambitious target of eradicating illiteracy over 10 years, evidence from research changed the way teachers tackled reading and staff were highly committed to new ways of working. Regular testing has assessed progress and pupil scores have improved year on year.

This is the lesson of educational change. It happens in the classroom and is determined by the attitude and approach of the teacher. West Dunbartonshire staff have opted into the synthetic phonics approach and have been supported by a 16-strong intervention team - all teachers. It involved extensive professional development. As Sister Elizabeth at St Michael's primary points out, this is about teamwork.

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