Play is the way to literacy
A well-funded foundation phase is seen as key to raising slowing literacy rates in Wales.
But with the strategy proven to be cash-strapped, and in the absence of a national literacy programme, the prospects of boosting poor reading and writing skills are being seen as increasingly remote.
Poor behaviour and attendance, which experts say are occurring as young as age five, were strongly linked to a lack of literacy in a landmark report released last week.
The National Behaviour and Attendance Review report claims the play-led foundation phase (FP), as well as family literacy programmes, could boost the communication skills of young children.
At the report's launch, Nic Naish, a member of the review body's steering group and head of Newtown Primary School in Bridgend, said the FP was a great developer of strong verbal and social skills in young children.
"In terms of developing communication and interaction, it works because what you can't write, you can say," he said, "but you need the right adult ratio to support children."
According to NBAR members, Wales has invested well in literacy. But without a structured national approach, programmes quickly run out of funding.
They say primary schools have focused strongly on literacy, but with varying degrees of success.
Debra Thomas, deputy head of Llantwit Major School in the Vale of Glamorgan, said: "I see an increasing number of children coming to secondary with poor literacy levels and related learning needs."
The report recommends every child should leave mainstream primary school with functional reading and writing skills. Mrs Thomas said problems needed to be identified early to achieve this.
"So much of the secondary curriculum relies on being able to read and write. Children can easily become disaffected and disheartened."
But steering group chair and deputy principal of Swansea Metropolitan University, Professor Ken Reid, said pupils needed individual plans taking into account their background and family circumstances.
The emerging picture is that literacy problems in Wales should be tackled at a local and classroom level, but under a strong national framework that targets funding.
News, page 5; Leader, page 32
IT'S ALL OVER NOW
National Behaviour and Attendance Review members want the Assembly government to look at best practice in literacy, and examine which approaches work best.
The report calls for the government to commission research into the link between low literacy and poor behaviour. In response, education minister Jane Hutt said this week that she would set up a working group and produce an action plan by early 2009.
But in a statement this week, the press office confirmed that the work of the NBAR was officially over.