Twelve months on, children who received one-to-one teaching at age six are still keeping up with their classmates
The benefits of one-to-one help in reading and writing at age six are still obvious a year later, particularly for boys, a new study into Reading Recovery has found.
The method, which is at the heart of the Government's multi-million pound Every Child a Reader programme, has been criticised by some reading experts, who say the effects are temporary.
But a new study by Dr Sue Burroughs-Lange, of London University's Institute of Education, has found that a year after undergoing Reading Recovery, pupils are still a year ahead of those with similar difficulties who did not take part in the programme.
Reading Recovery, which originated in the 1970s in New Zealand, involves tutoring children who have the most severe reading difficulties in daily, 30-minute one-to-one sessions, for 12 to 20 weeks.
The Government will be investing pound;144 million over three years from September in both the Every Child a Reader and the parallel Every Child Counts programmes.
By the summer of 2011, it expects 1,800 teachers to be trained in the reading scheme, and 30,000 six-year-olds to have been helped.
Participating primaries will receive about pound;10,000 from the Government - half the cost of employing a Reading Recovery teacher. Schools are expected to find the rest of the money from their own budgets.
Dr Burroughs-Lange's research compared 77 children in 21 schools. They undertook the programme in Year 1, while 109 in another 21 schools followed other schemes.
Not only did the children who had been on a Reading Recovery course catch up with classmates, but the gender gap was eliminated.
The researchers found that boys who had received Reading Recovery made 20 months' progress, while the other boys made six months'.
One year on, girls and boys who had Reading Recovery showed similar reading ages, with boys a month ahead, while in schools using other schemes girls were six and a half months ahead of boys.
In national tests at the end of Year 2, 86 per cent of the Reading Recovery pupils reached the expected level 2, compared with the national average of 84 per cent. By contrast, 57 per cent of the comparison children achieved level 2.
Jean Gross, director of Every Child a Reader, said: "The results are remarkable. They show that children (who were) in the bottom 5 per cent ability range before they had help can outperform national averages up to two years later.
"Previous research has shown the impact of failing to learn to read on crime, employment and depression. Having this early intervention could make a real difference to these children's lives."
Earlier this year, Kevin Wheldall, director of the Macquarie University special education centre in Australia, criticised the programme. He told The TES he believed Reading Recovery was only moderately effective for readers whose problems were relatively mild.
Kalvinder Bains was head of literacy at Benson Community School in Birmingham until last September, when she left to do a masters-level training course for Reading Recovery teachers.
"It's very different at first - you think it's going to be easy, but it is intense," she said. "It's very pacey, and you need to make decisions all the time about what will have the greatest pay-off for that child."
Nine-year-old Waseem Hussain, a Benson pupil, had Reading Recovery when he was struggling in Year 1. Now a fluent reader, he is a reading buddy to young children,
"I loved going to Mrs Bains," he said. "We would read books and they had so many adventures in them, and I didn't know what was going to happen next. It was tremendous."
WANTED BY 2011: 1,800 SPECIALIST READING TEACHERS
The Every Child a Reader programme will depend on training 1,800 Reading Recovery teachers by 2011.
The one-to-one teaching method, which takes a year to learn, is being promoted particularly to experienced class teachers who are nearing retirement.
Jean Gross, director of Every Child a Reader, said: "One idea which so far has had a very good reception from heads is Teach Last. This is for excellent teachers with around five years to go until retirement. They may want to work in a part-time capacity.
"I want to stress it is not for people who are looking for an easy option. Teachers tell us it is one of the toughest things they've done. But teachers who are perhaps 59 or 60, who would like to have a half-time role, might well be interested."
Difficulties with recruitment vary across England, but parts of London have experienced problems finding teachers.
Trish Dowling, 58, of Heygreen Primary in Liverpool, trained as a Reading Recovery teacher in 2005. She is a Year 4 teacher, but from next year will be spending half her time taking Reading Recovery pupils.
"I trained to do it because it works," she said. "It is hugely beneficial for the children, and it gives enormous job satisfaction. I've never known job satisfaction like it in all the years I've been teaching.
"We don't just teach them words and hear them read - it is equipping children with reading strategies they will require throughout life."
While those pondering retirement are one group being targeted, Reading Recovery training is also seen as useful for mid-career teachers looking for extra skills without management responsibility, and for teachers at the beginning of their careers who want to specialise.