Right timing

Q How soon is too soon for intervention strategies? In Scotland, there is gathering tension between exponents of early intervention for literacy and traditional early years teachers.

A In England, too, there's often tension between literacy consultants and foundation stage specialists. The former are anxious to get on with reading and writing instruction in reception, identifying failing children by the age of six so that "catch-up" resources can be provided as early as possible. The latter maintain that too-early teaching and intervention create failure.

We should look more closely at successful European countries, such as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, which have a far less disturbing gap in achievement between the educational "haves" and "have nots" at the age of 16, including a minimal gender gap. In these countries, children follow a three-year "kindergarten curriculum" up to the age of six or seven, which is play-based but includes structured attention to the development of spoken language, listening skills (including phonological awareness) and attention span. Their success suggests that a strong and structured oral curriculum in the foundation years - including systematic but child-friendly coverage of phonics, which has been shown to aid speaking and listening skills - might make more impact than ever-earlier intervention strategies.

* Please email questions to SNExtra@tes.co.uk or write to TES Extra for Special Needs, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London ElW lBX.

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