Parents in partnership

10th March 1995 at 00:00
Literacy, Home, and School By Peter Hannon, Falmer Press Pounds 12.95 0 7507 0360 1. In 1982, a small research project in Haringey showed that involving parents in a deprived area in their children's reading brought benefits which apparently outstripped the effects of extra help in school. Even though this occurred in only one school, the work generated enormous interest and the parental involvement movement was born.

A whole series of initiatives followed. The Belfield Project, directed by Peter Hannon and based on the Haringey work, but without its extra funding for home visits, attracted wide attention. PACT, an ILEA project based in Hackney, generated a host of practical ideas from schools, many of which have become standard practice, particularly in work with infants. Paired Reading, unashamedly derived from the behaviourist school of psychology and pre-dating the Haringey results, was taken up with enthusiasm and spawned a series of initiatives in its own right, some of which had little or nothing in common with the original technique. Research reports proliferated to the extent that Hannon can provide 14 pages of references, including 21 mentions of his own articles.

And yet the movement has known disappointment, and much of Literacy, Home and School is taken up with the analysis of what has gone wrong, and of ways to avoid repeating mistakes. The Belfield project led to increased participation of parents in early reading, but did not repeat the gains in test scores seen in Haringey. The Haringey comparison of parental help with extra teaching in school, which had involved only one teacher, was conceded by one of its authors to be "rather ill thought-out", and the main paired reading project, in Kirklees, generated so much data that the results were barely comprehensible.

Peter Hannon has a unique perspective on these issues, and examines at length the assumptions that underlie concepts of success and failure, the idea of literacy in school and society, and the potential and limitations of research design. He ranges over almost every controversial feature of the reading debate except the Reading Recovery programme - surely crucial to any consideration of the effectiveness of extra teaching - but his handling of difficult issues is not always convincing. There is no attempt, for example, to answer the arguments of Marilyn Adams against the theories of Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman, and the discussion of the national curriculum leaves one unsure as to whether Hannon thinks it will or will not promote the involvement of parents.

Researchers setting up new projects will find useful caveats in the chapters on research design and there is really helpful statistical information among the references. The best testament to the Haringey project, however, and to those who, like Peter Hannon, have carried the torch, is in the vast increase in the involvement of parents in reading, and the closer communication between parents and teachers, which it has brought about.

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