Schools eye US literacy experiment

28th January 2000 at 00:00
PRIMARY SCHOOLS in Islington's new education action zone are considering using a controversial American programme that requires teachers to give a daily 90-minute literacy lesson.

The Success for All scheme was developed to improve the reading skills of children in deprived areas of the United States.

Used in 420 schools in 28 states, it groups pupils by reading level, irrespective of age.

The scheme is far more prescriptive than the Government's national literacy strategy, which originally came under fire from teachers for dictating their approach in the classroom.

Teachers are required to deliver highly structured lessons using materials developed by the not-for-profit Success for All company, whose UK subsidiary is based at Nottingham University.

So far, only five primaries in a deprived part of Nottingham have used Success for All for any length of time. Two are no longer using it. An evaluation carried out by academics led by Professor David Hopkins of Nottingham University's centre for teacher and school development suggested pupils made as much progress in a term as might be expected in a year.

Success for All was developed by Robert Slavin and other academics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and is being promoted in the UK by Professor Hopkins, who is a director of the UK subsidiary. The materials have been extensively re-written for English schools.

However, Judith Wordsworth, managing director o Success for All, said the scheme was not in competition with the literacy hour, adding that the material gives teachers more time to concentrate on how they will deliver lessons.

The scheme's costs are steepest in the early years. For an average-sized primary, training costs around pound;20,000 in the first two years. Materials cost pound;8,500, with an annual replacement cost of around pound;500.

Schools can introduce the scheme because it meets the objectives of the national literacy strategy. John Stannard, the strategy's director, said Success for All would be evaluated as schools took it up.

He said: "It is always open to schools to look at ways of delivering the strategy according to their own needs. This is a scripted programme and it might be considered in schools where there is a high turnover of staff. We are content for the pilot to go ahead."

The scheme has many supporters in the US. But preliminary inspection reports on the Nottingham schools expressed reservations about reception children being given 90 minutes a day of literacy.

Gaynor Cashin, director of the Islington education action zone - who is employed by the Fischer Family Trust, the zone's major backer - said training had been given to literacy co-ordinators in the three north London primaries most likely to introduce the scheme.

She added that it would not be introduced unless 80 per cent of teachers in the individual schools voted in favour of it.

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