Literacy course merits a toehold

20th October 1995 at 01:00
The conclusions from Graham Frater's literacy project conducted for the Basic Skills Agency (TES, October 6) reaffirms long-standing evidence that boys are reluctant readers.

Low reading levels are reflected in boys' inordinately low GCSE English grades compared with those achieved by girls. Special needs departments have a predominance of boys and there has previously been no blueprint to redress this situation.

Graham Frater concludes that at primary level there is no substitute for the New Zealand Reading Recovery programme. At secondary level, he advocates half-hour sessions of one-to-one tuition, powerfully linked to meaning and the use of language. Jennifer Chew in the same issue of The TES reminds us of the New Zealand phonetic system to help 10 to 13-year-olds with spelling problems. She is convincing in her evidence that systematic phonics teaching for beginner readers is ultimately more likely than other methods to lead to accurate spelling.

Both these writers draw attention to New Zealand's solutions to low levels of literacy, though Jennifer Chew promotes early phonics teaching as her solution. Graham Frater has overlooked the success factor as a motivator for boys reading. Those who find reading and writing easy are more likely to persist in those pursuits. Systematic teaching leads to success, and success makes pupils wish to continue. Waiting in the wings, for it will surely receive full recognition within the next few years, lies "Toe by Toe" (see TES, September 22) the United Kingdom's own answer for our under-achieving youth.

Toe by Toe is a multisensory phonic reading programme suitable for children aged seven plus and adults. It can be managed by parents, classroom assistant andor teachers. It requires 20 minutes each day for a five-month period. It moves reading, spelling, writing and motivation forward in an unprecedented manner.

Toe by Toe, developed by Keda Cowling, a retired Bradford teacher, is now succeeding in 300 or more schools, 70 language support teams, and 250 homes. In some secondary schools it is being taught in a peer-teaching situation. What does one have to do to command the attention of decision-makers in our educational system?

I beg the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, the Office for Standards in Education personnel, Gillian Shephard, David Blunkett, and all who have influence in our educational system to give Toe by Toe an objective trial. The programme for literacy success for boys and girls does not need to be discovered. It is here in UK now, just waiting for recognition.

However, it is not just one more in a series of literacy programmes. Its success is unprecedented. Children enjoy it and look forward to the next session. We cannot afford to delay its adoption at national level.

Dr JEAN ALSTON 7 Harrington Drive Gawsworth Macclesfield, Cheshire

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