School that makes a difference

27th February 1998 at 00:00
"Just another day" was how one teacher at Drumry primary in Glasgow's Drumchapel impishly greeted the Secretary of State on Tuesday, as Donald Dewar led a scrum of reporters, cameramen and assorted Scottish Office types through its classrooms.

The purpose was to publicise, once again, the Government's drive to raise literacy standards in a school that happens to be in Mr Dewar's Anniesland constituency.

Drumry is also an Inspectorate favourite - one that serves disadvantaged families but has proven it can "make a difference". Half of primary 2 pupils were achieving level A in reading, the target set for most pupils by the end of primary 3.

The pound;24 million early intervention package, which will give Glasgow pound;1.9 million over three years, is thus the real engine of the Government's education-driven policy. The city is concentrating on staff development, using a team of 20 skilled practitioners to coach nursery staff and primary teachers. All 204 primaries and 140 nurseries will eventually be involved, covering 2,000 staff.

"Teacher responses have been overwhelmingly, incredibly positive," Fiona Harrison, Glasgow's literacy co-ordinator, says. The thrust has been on teaching methodology, classroom strategies and problem-solving approaches.

"The problem with 5-14 up to now has been that it has not involved the teaching of reading," Mrs Harrison states. "It tells us we have to ensure almost everybody is at level A by the end of primary 3. But most of our work is pre-level A."

The council has been forced by its circumstances to take the staff development route rather than direct work with pupils. Other authorities, notably Edinburgh, have used nursery nurses and classroom assistants to back up teachers in the classroom.

Mrs Harrison says that, if Glasgow took that approach and confined it only to the 70 primaries where 80 per cent or more of pupils were on clothing grants, the Government's money would stretch to a nursery nurse for half the week. "Other areas use schools with 40 per cent or more of their pupils on clothing grants to trigger extra resources," she says. "These are our good schools."

Government funding will last for only three years, another reason Glasgow is avoiding a "resource-driven approach". It aims to issue a video and materials on the teaching of reading in August, to be used with new teachers.

Glasgow now intends moving to a daily time allocation of at least one and a quarter hours for reading and writing. The focus, Mrs Harrison says, will be on quality time which means "active teaching, not just hearing the children read. We found that teachers, with the best of intentions, have been organising classes to hear pupils read, with the result that the teaching itself has suffered."

TEACHERS WHO TEACH EFFECTIVELY:

* Listen to pupils talking about their experiences of reading, relate stories to pupils' own experiences, and explain the context of unfamiliar settings.

* Teach short phonic lessons, such as emphasising initial letter sounds and recalling or comparing words with similar sounds in the text.

* Revisit familiarkey words, introduce new reading vocabulary and explain the meanings of words.

* Ask pupils to read aloud to others in the group.

* Discuss the effectiveness of the language used.

* Explain some of the features of different types of text, eg non-fiction or poetry.

* Encourage pupils to talk about their favourite stories or characters.

* Ask pupils to read back scribed stories or captions.

* Use language games and story tapes.

Source: HMI

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