The Government looks set to extend its pilot National Literacy Project to 8,000 primary schools in a year's time under a central grant scheme to be announced shortly.
The project, launched by the previous Conservative administration in January, is now being piloted in 13 local authorities. It sets out a detailed framework for the teaching of reading and writing, with a structured "literacy hour" at its heart.
It is now understood that the Government plans to target the 40 per cent of primaries most in need of literacy help through Grants for Education Support and Training (GEST) funding from September 1998.
They will receive the full National Literacy Project treatment, while others will get less extensive help. The national literacy strategy announced by Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, this week sketches out a scheme of staff training and requires schools and local authorities to draw up literacy development plans. The Government intends to train 200 literacy "consultants" to implement its strategy in local authorities across the country.
Details of what local authorities will need to do to bid successfully for the funding are to be published in the autumn. Ministers will need to find a way to distribute literacy money to all schools, but to ensure that those needing the most help are included in the National Literacy Project.
It is still unclear whether all schools, even those whose national test scores and Office for Standards in Education reports are good, will be required to implement a "literacy hour" in order to receive GEST money.
Meanwhile, the Government's "pressure and support" philosophy extended to parents this week as ministers urged them to spend 20 minutes a day reading with their primary-aged children.
This good intention should be enshrined in home-school contracts, "which at primary level should emphasise not only attendance, punctuality, good behaviour and the school's responsibilities but also the essential nature of work at home to support a child in learning to read", say recommendations from Labour's literacy task force, which were accepted in full by Mr Byers on Monday.
He also announced plans to spend #163;1.8 million on literacy courses for several thousand parents in 64 local authorities. These three-month courses would, where required, help parents with their own literacy and show them how to help their children. They would attend for between four and eight hours a week, spending half the time with the children and half developing their own skills.
The scheme is an extension of a family literacy project currently run in four local authorities by the Basic Skills Agency.
Michael Barber, the task force chairman and head of the Depart-ment for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit, said the Government was also seeking cost-effective ways of getting advice to parents through health visitors and doctors' surgeries, and urging businesses to encourage parents to promote the importance of reading and writing.
There was strong evidence that parental involvement improved children's reading, but many parents were still in the dark about what was expected of them, said Mr Byers. "All the research shows that parents want greater clarity about what's wanted of them," he said.
Mr Byers said the task force's recommendations would give the Government the tools to achieve its target of getting 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to the expected standard in national tests by 2002.
Schools will be expected to set literacy targets and a two-year literacy action plan, devote a structured hour each day to literacy for all pupils, and dedicate three in-service training days to preparing for the "literacy hour".
Local authorities, too, will be expected to give high priority to literacy in their education development plans. They will be expected to provide the most help for schools needing it, and to take remedial action where required.
OFSTED will be asked to look for evidence of a whole school strategy for raising literacy standards, and undertake a survey of 5 to 10 per cent of primary schools in the year 19992000 to see how well Labour's policies are working.
The proposals have received a cautious welcome. However, some experts would like the family literacy plans to reach the parents of pre-school children. "The earlier the work begins, the better," said Julia Strong, assistant director of the National Literacy Trust. "All the research shows that early intervention is more effective." The Basic Skills Agency approach, requiring attendance over 12 weeks, means that parents with the greatest personal difficulties will find it hard to see it through.
Education consultant and inspector Bill Laar urged outreach into homes and communities and free books for babies and toddlers.