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13th February 1998 at 00:00
The new 'literacy consultants' will be expected to achieve a lot in a short time, says Elaine Williams

In recent weeks The TES has carried dozens of adverts for the Government's newly-created literacy consultants - but applicants have probably had to weigh the odds more carefully than usual.

First, many of the posts are for a two-year, fixed-term contract and, although local authorities might wish to extend that, there is no guarantee. And second, successful candidates will have to hit the ground running. As a key player in implementing the Government's literacy strategy, which aims for 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to have achieved level 4 in reading and writing by 2002, much will be expected of them in a relatively short time.

Nevertheless, the posts offer the scope for strategic management experience, and a good consultant could make a real difference to literacy standards across a local authority.

Gervase Phinn, the principal adviser for English in North Yorkshire, says it's "an excellent job. There's a lot a person can do with it." He says his county has attracted a "very catholic field" for its three consultancy posts, including advisory teachers, heads, deputies and language co-ordinators from large primary schools.

The Government has set aside Pounds 7 million for the 200 consultants being appointed across local authorities in England and Wales. This represents half of the cost, the other half being met by the authorities themselves. Most posts are being offered on the Soulbury Scale, the same pay and conditions of service enjoyed by local authority advisers and inspectors, but the length of contracts, pay rates and terms of the job differ across the country.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council is offering a permanent contract on Soulbury Scale 9-12 (between Pounds 29,316 and Pounds 31,662), while Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council is offering a two-year post on Soulbury 6-9 (Pounds 26,976-Pounds 29,316).

The literacy consultant to be appointed for Redcar and Cleveland will work alongside Jill Canning, who has been the LEA's literacy co-ordinator for the past year and was formerly head of a Middlesbrough primary school. She has worked intensively in training parents in children's literacy and sees the consultant's job as complementing work she has already started. "We have third and fourth-generation unemployed in this area and there is a lot of work to be done in building up confidence. A good trainer will make a significant impact," she says.

Some authorities have decided to offer permanent contracts to attract high-calibre applicants. The London borough of Hounslow is also prepared to be flexible on pay. Recognising that the head of a large primary might enjoy better pay and conditions than Soulbury - perhaps Pounds 30,000-Pounds 40,000 plus school holidays - it will match the salary should a head be appointed.

Literacy consultants will be expected to hold training sessions for heads, teachers and governors on the literacy strategy materials produced by central government, help schools introduce the daily literacy hour and work with weak teachers in the four in 10 primary schools in need of intensive support.

York, a new unitary authority, is hoping to lure an outstanding candidate with the aid of a permanent contract and more expansive brief. Tricia Ellison, the city's senior English adviser, says: "We also called the post a 'consultant for learning and literacy' because, although we agree absolutely that children's literacy is the key to the future, we still want the richest, broadest, most vibrant curriculum.

"For the right person this is a real opportunity to enhance professional skills. They need to be able to audit provision in a school quickly; find the most appropriate ways of intervening in teaching to get maximum progress; have excellent inter-personal skills and be extremely effective managers of their time."

In similar vein Portsmouth is appointing a "literacy adviser", described as "one step beyond" consultancy. After four years, the adviser will transfer to an inspector post within the authority's school-development team.

Tony Byrne, Portsmouth's officer for school development, taught English for 20 years but says he had little guidance on how to teach children to read - "I felt very unsupported in this respect. In Portsmouth we have a very long hill to climb to reach government targets. At present just over 50 per cent of our children are reaching level 4."

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