Literacy pioneers

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Emma Burstall describes the lasting legacy of the ILEA.

The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) was far from perfect but it left a lasting legacy, and much of its pioneering work on primary literacy in particular is still evident in schools throughout this country and overseas.

Twenty-five years ago, ILEA established the highly-regarded, Southwark-based Centre for Language in Primary Education (CLPE), which was taken over by Southwark Local Education Authority in 1990, after ILEA's abolition.

The centre was set up to provide in-service training for teachers, and to promote high standards of language and literacy teaching. In the late 1980s, CLPE developed the Primary Language Record, a means of tracking children's progress in talking, listening, reading and writing from three to 11.

The initiative pre-dated the national curriculum and many teachers still employ some or all of its methods. The Primary Language Record and adaptations of it are also used in the United States, Australia and Uganda, among other countries. CLPE's Primary Language Handbook, which explains how the tracking method works, has sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide.

Sue Ellis, deputy director of CLPE, says that partnership with parents was one of the Primary Language Record's most innovative aspects. Parents contribute their understanding of the child's development and learning through discussions with the teacher twice a year, and pupils also have an input. Teachers keep a record which is summarised twice during the year, allowing schools to act on the analysis before the end of the summer term. The record is then passed on from year to year.

"When the national curriculum came in some teachers felt deluged by paperwork and said it was too much to develop Primary Language Records as well. However, many schools have told us they have returned to the PLR as a way of maintaining standards," Ms Ellis said. "These days it is used by individual schools rather than local education authorities, but some authorities have been keen to promote it and support schools using it."

CLPE also developed the Primary Learning Record which includes maths and science.

Michael Russell, head of Malmesbury Junior School in Bow, east London, taught in ILEA schools for 17 years. Like Ms Ellis, he believes one of the authority's greatest contributions was to recognise the importance of parental involvement in teaching children to read.

The ILEA-led PACT scheme (Parents and Children and Teachers), launched throughout Hackney primary schools in 1981, was an excellent example of how to harness parental support, he said.

ILEA researchers who monitored the project found the greater the proportion of children who read regularly to their parents and whose parents had regular contact with teachers, the higher was the school's average score on the London Reading Test.

The LRT was taken by top juniors and was initially used to establish which children would need extra help before starting secondary school. Mr Russell said: "The legacy of PACT has been very strong, and the Primary Language Record is still used as the basis of record-keeping in many schools.

"ILEA was very large and a lot of money was wasted, but I look back on it as a time when all children were valued - not just those from middle-class backgrounds. A lot of important work was done on race, class and gender issues," he said.

Dr Pam Sammons, associate director of the International School Effectiveness and Improvement Centre at London's Insitute of Education, was a senior research officer at ILEA from 1981 until 1990.

She said ILEA's research and statistics department had a value and influence way beyond London's boundaries.

"No other LEAs had that kind of research and statistics capacity. A good deal of research was done in the 1980s on the links between socio-economic background and school achievement. Sadly, much of this was lost when ILEA was wound down."

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