So good they said it twice

12th February 1999 at 00:00
THE Government's penchant for announcing the same items of good news on innumerable occasions continues with the full research report on the new "synthetic phonics" reading programme in Clackmannanshire.

The report on "accelerating reading attainment" by psychologists from St Andrews University confirms the importance of the literacy initiative, hailed last October as a breakthrough by Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary.

The latest announcement was also a breakthrough for Labour's media strategy when the three-month-old story was picked up by the BBC's Nine O'Clock News, largely because the literacy approach differed from that being used south of the border.

Joyce Watson and Rhona Johnston, the St Andrews researchers, state that, after using synthetic phonics for 20 minutes a day over 16 weeks, primary 1 children in five of the 13 classes involved were reading seven months ahead of their chronological age. Those who were taught by the alternative of "analytic phonics" were found to be six months behind.

The researchers believe introducing children to a range of letter sounds quickly rather than a slow concentration on specific letters in whole words helps them to sound and blend letters in unfamiliar words, seen as the key in speeding up word recognition.

Helen Liddell, the Education Minister, hailed this "very valuable" research and said it was further proof that the pound;60 million early intervention programme is "one of the most exciting initiatives currently under way in the entire United Kingdom".

Margaret Paterson, Clackmannan's education spokesperson, said that such progress in reading and spelling "would have been thought scarcely possible even a year ago".

Clackmannan has now included all its primaries in the initiative.

"Accelerating Reading Attainment: the Effectiveness of Synthetic Phonics" is published by the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department in its Interchange educational research series.

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