'There is no common agenda for building a literate nation'

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Suddenly, literacy projects are the new panacea. Maureen O'Connor offers a guide to some of the schemes which have made an impact nationally and locally

Noprsurvey In one sense at least the new Government's literacy programme has already been an enormous success. Notions such as the "literacy hour", classes for parents, summer literacy schools and pressure to encourage parents to read to their children for 20 minutes a day have guaranteed headlines in newspapers from tabloid to broadsheet. Suddenly, raising children's performance in reading and writing has become a national objective that should be boosted by the National Year of Reading in 199899.

From the experts' point of view , the issue is complex. As the National Literacy Trust's book, Building a Literate Nation, put it in July: "Literacy is a multi-faceted subject that demands the attention of practitioners and thinkers with very different perspectives. It is not, therefore, surprising that there is no common agenda for building a literate nation over the next five years."

What emerged from the book is a recognition that building literacy requires co-operation between education, business and industry, the community and the family. For teachers, the immediate issue is a practical one. They are the ones who have to meet David Blunkett's ambitious target for all 11-year-olds to reach their chronological reading age when the national curriculum test results are published in 2006. To do that they need to find proven methods that will work for their children in their classrooms in their communities.

Since literacy became a front-page issue, there has been an explosion of schemes to raise standards. Some have proved more controversial than others. This guide to literacy schemes and projects is not definitive. Nor can it be qualitative; The National Literacy Trust has 1,800 initiatives on its database.

Over the next three pages we offer a guide to a range of schemes, both classroom-based and those that aim to work with families and the community, so that teachers can see what is available. They can decide what best suits their circumstances and then make contact with experts who can offer more information and advice.

NoText_PG1-RP_1 1 CLASSROOM-BASED SCHEMES _____________________________ The National Literacy Project This is the project launched under the Conservative government last year which has already piloted the "literacy hour", now endorsed by the Labour Government's Literacy Task Force. The project has already introduced its ideas to 300 primary schools and will be extended next year. Its approach involves setting targets for children from the reception class through to Year 6. The approach is unashamedly pedagogical, which sometimes brings it into conflict with heads and educationists who say that teachers do not need this level of prescription.

But the national director, John Stannard, says that, in the pilot schools, prescription has not been an issue. The project has shifted teachers' thinking towards their pedagogy and they have tended to ask for more help rather than less.

The project's approach is partly based on classroom programmes developed in New Zealand by Dame Marie Clay and others. The approach is structured, involving both whole-class and group teaching, and tackles language at the level of text, sentences and individual words. Vocabulary extension, word play and grammar, phonics and spelling are all included, and there are sessions using the techniques of shared and guided reading. There is to be a national strategy for training and it is anticipated that every school will be enabled to take part in the project during the National Year of Reading in 19989.

* The National Project for Literacy and Numeracy, National Centre, London House, 59-65 London Road, Reading, Berkshire RG1 4EW.Tel: 0118 952 7500.

Reading Recovery

This is an intervention scheme for children with reading difficulties which was pioneered in New Zealand by Dame Marie Clay and has been evaluated as successful there and in Australia, the USA and the UK, at least in the short-term. Co-ordinated Government funding for Reading Recovery has now ended but some local authorities are continuing to fund local schemes.

The programme consists of daily half-hour sessions with specially-trained teachers for six-year-olds who are in the least successful 20% of their class for reading. The lessons consist of reading two or more books, one familiar and one new, as well as writing a story.

* The Reading Recovery National Network is at the University of London Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL. Tel: 0171 612 6585. More details on Reading Recovery research are available from Dr Jane Hurry at The institute. Observing Young Readers (Pounds 19.99), and Reading Recovery (Pounds 15.70), both by Dame Marie Clay, are published by Heinemann, which also produces a Reading Recovery Pack (Pounds 36.25).

Literacy Initiative From Teachers

LIFT is another and older project based on the New Zealand approach, that was launched in the London Borough of Westminster and has now been taken up by about 20 other local authorities. It is often complemented by Reading Recovery (see below) for children who are learning particularly slowly. It is used in Westminster specifically by infant teachers and involves the literacy hour, shared and guided reading, and a range of books, poem cards, puzzles and games which introduce spelling and grammatical concepts.

The project has been disseminated through twilight in-service training, the use of demonstration classrooms and a project leader available to assist in inidvidual schools.

Evaluation by the Thomas Coram Research Institute indicates raised levels of literacy and a knock-on effect in other subjects.

* Further information from Shirley Bickler, Ebury Bridge Centre, London SW1Z 4LH. Tel: 0171 976 6211 (ext 2248).

First Steps

This is the language and literacy programme introduced in 1989 by the Education Department of Western Australia, which has inspired some of the subsequent developments in this country. Wiltshire local education authority is one of those which has developed a UK version of the First Steps approach.

The approach is developmentally based so that it can be used with children of all ages and abilities. It uses diagnostic frameworks, including software, which link assessment to teaching and offers well-documented strategies to meet children's individual needs. The reading and writing components enable children to comprehend and compose texts across a wide range of forms, and there is a strong oral component.

The materials are full of practical ideas for the classroom which promote development.

The approach was tried and validated in 500 schools in Western Australia and is now being used in all the state's schools, as well as in New Zealand, the United States and the UK.

* For information on the First Steps experience in Wiltshire, contactAlan Howe, consultant for English, Wiltshire County Council, Professional Development Centre, Drove Road, Swindon SN1 3AH. Tel: 01793 616054. Information on books and in-service training from Emily Davies at Heinemann Educational Publishing. Tel: 01865 311366.

Exeter Extended Literacy (Excel) Project

This project was established by Exeter University, with funding from the Nuffield Foundation, to develop teaching strategies that would extend children's ability to use reading and writing for learning across the curriculum. Concern was raised by problems such as the prevalence of children copying sections from information books, with little learning involved, limitations on the range of texts children were able to read and write, and the lack of opportunities afforded for sustained and extended reading, especially of non-fiction.

A range of strategies has been developed with teachers to extend children's use and control of literacy. These include work on writing in a range of genres - the term chosen to indicate writing with different purposes, such as narrative, drama and the various sorts of non-fiction - and the use of writing frames. (These provide children with a template against which to set different structures. For instance, a piece of persuasive writing would be prompted by: "I would argue that I", "One of my main reasons is I", "Other reasons are I" and "Finally, I conclude that I ") The Extending Interactions with Texts (EXIT) model links 10 teaching strategies with 10 process stages. For instance, in helping children establish the purpose of their writing, teachers would use strategies such as question setting andor a KWAL grid (what do you Know, what do you Want to know and what have you Learned).

A full account of the project and the teaching strategies appears in Extending Literacy by David Wray and Maureen Lewis, published by Routledge (and a joint-winner of the UK Reading Association's 1997 Donald Moyle Award). Work on writing is decribed in Writing Frames, published by the University of Reading's Reading and Language Information Centre.

Further funding from Nuffield will allow the Exeter team to extend the project to include working with secondary teachers to help pupils with literacy difficulties, and to work with class and Section 11 teachers to explore the usefulness of the project to help bilingual pupils.

* Further information from David Wray, University of Exeter School of Education, Heavitree Road, Exeter EX1 2LU. Tel: 01392 264973.

Literacy for All

This project was developed by the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and has been taken up in the UK by the London Borough of Brent. It has been funded for two years at Pounds 500,000 by Harlesden City Challenge as part of the Harlesden School Improvement Initiative. It is a highly structured programme designed specifically for use with children aged from four to seven in urban areas and aims to ensure that all children are reading fluently by the age of seven.

Each school in the project is supported by a school-based advisory teacher. Every day, children are divided into groups of 15 for one hour taught by class teachers and support staff. Work is based on Big Books, which cover activities for two-week periods allowing all children practice in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Phonics, word recognition, spelling, punctuation and print conventions are taught from real text, rather than in isolation.

There is an assessment of each child at the start of the project and then each term. The project is supported by INSET for class teachers. Reading levels have improved in the Literacy for All schools and Brent is now considering how some aspects of the scheme can be extended to all its schools.

* Contact Janet Dolan, Literacy for All, Brent Inspection Service, Centre for Staff Development, Brentfield Road, London NW10 8HE.

Bradford Language and Achievement Initiative

A major aspect of this project redefines section 11 work in the city and is exploring ways of helping children develop their English skills more rapidly. The Better Reading Partnership, established in May 1995, provides daily one-to-one reading support for 10 weeks, using trained volunteers, including parents. A random sample of children involved in the project showed that reading gains were far greater than for a control group of children the same age. The accelerated progress continued after children left the programme.

* Contact City of Bradford Metropolitan Council, Education Directorate, Flockton House, Flockton Road, Bradford BD4 7RY. Tel: 01274 752111.

Fifteen Minutes a Day

This project was developed initially in six primary schools in the London Borough of Hackney and quickly spread to include a majority of schools in the borough. It uses non-teachers (classroom assistants or parents) to take six and seven-year-olds through a highly structured daily programme of reading and work on letters and key words. The aim is for children to develop confidence in independent reading, begin to use self-correcting strategies, learn to identify and use all the letter names and sounds, learn to read and write 40 common words, and to learn simple rhyme and spelling patterns. The main advantage for schools is that the scheme requires little extra funding and no additional staffing. A school can introduce the scheme for about Pounds 50. The project was monitored and assessed and the project children had gained a significant advantage over a control group.

* Contact: Kate Grant, Co-ordinator, 15 Minutes a Day Programme, New River Centre, Clissold Road, London N16 9EX. Tel: 0171-254 3591.

Shropshire Literacy Project This project covers children from reception to Year 7 in primary and secondary schools. Twenty-eight target schools have been identified in three clusters - two urban and one rural. Teachers who work with Years R1, Years 23 and Years 67 are offered four days of training on reading and four on writing. Teachers then target a group of pupils who are achieving at below-average levels and focus specific group teaching on them. In secondary schools the teachers work in co-ordination with the learning support staff. Senior management are also involved in whole-school planning and development issues.

* Contact: Ann Malcolm, English adviser, Telford Teachers Centre, Telford, Shropshire.Tel: 01952 587057.

2 HELP WITH PHONICS ____________________________ Finger Phonics

This is a phonics scheme perfected over two decades in a Suffolk primary school by Sue Lloyd and colleagues. Standard tests indicate that the school's pupils learn to read and write fluently by the age of eight. The scheme involves the use of phonic flash-cards in the first term in reception class. By the second term, children tackle early reading-scheme books and keep daily diaries. Spelling is often accurate and always recognisable. The scheme is attracting interest in Canada as well as the UK.

* Books and materials are available from Jolly Learning, Clare Hall,Chapel Lane, Chigwell IG7 6JJ.

The Phonics Bank

This scheme was developed by Maureen Hartley, deputy head of a primary school in Handsworth, Birmingham. It forms the basis of a daily 15-minute session using an audio cassette and songs and picture cards to illustrate sounds. Letter names are introduced at a later stage. Teaching beyond the initial stages is a combination of class and group work. The scheme includes phonic assessment passages, stories, games and is compatible with most reading schemes.

* The Phonics Bank by Maureen Hartley and St Clare's School, is available from Ginn (cards and cassette Pounds 65, Teachers' Resource Book Pounds 11.50). Tel: 01296 394442.


The acronym stands for Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills. It is a highly structured scheme for teaching the connections between sound and letter patterns based on identification of the 44 phonemes (sounds that letters represent, such as f or k) and the alternative graphemes (combinations of letters, such as ph or ch) which can be used to write them.

The terminology is made explicit from the start and the aim is to ensure that children are not confused by being told one thing and then finding in their reading something different: a-pple, w-a-ter, a-che, for instance. The scheme makes use of tapes and charts and also teaches regular letter formation leading to cursive script. Detailed work on the effectiveness of THRASS is under way.

* THRASS, by Alan Davies and Denyse Ritchie, a Primary Special Needs Pack, is published by Collins Educational, Pounds 70, Tel: 0171 741 7070.


Reading is Fundamental

Run successfully in the US for the past 30 years, it was launched in the UK in 1996 by the National Literacy Trust, with funding from Tate Lyle. The objective is to encourage children to love books and reading through free book distribution, motivational events and the encouragement of parental and community involvement. By September 1997, the programme will have 61 individual projects running in primary and secondary schools, libraries and community and parents' projects, and even at a football club.

About 5,000 children have already chosen free books to keep, subsidised by RIF and by publishers. Families and volunteers have been persuaded and encouraged to help children with their reading. This month, RIF is to invest Pounds 10,000 in Derby (matched by the city and local business), and the Roald Dahl Foundation has made a grant of Pounds 12,000 to be invested in Northern Ireland this autumn.

* For further information, contact RIF at the National Literacy Trust, Swire House, 59 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AJ. Tel: 0171 828 2435.

Literacy 2000

Lewisham has invested Pounds 500,000 a year in this project to raise educational standards, improve teaching methods and stimulate parental involvement in children's education. The project is community-based and involves schools, libraries, the health service and adult education.

Initiatives so far include a Babystart scheme, which uses health visitors to identify young mothers and targets help on the pre-nursery age group, family literacy events during the school holidays, family literacy work using schools as the base for homeschool reading schemes and special help for parents with toddlers, and co-operative work between libraries and target schools to make sure that books are available when needed.

A rolling advisory programme for schools has targeted Year 7 teaching in secondary schools and Years 1 and 2 in primary schools. Advice has been made available on school development and funding provided for classroom assistants according to need. The LEA has set its own literacy targets and expects schools to set their own in line with what they believe they can achieve.

* Karen Feeney, Director, Literacy 2000, Lewisham Professional Development Centre, Kilmorie Road, London SE23 2SP. Tel: 0181 291 5005.

The Newcastle-upon-Tyne Literacy Collaborative

This is a 10-year collaborative partnership between Newcastle City Council and the National Literacy Trust which aims to develop the literacy skills of the whole community. Priorities will be raising awareness through schemes to improve the language development of children from birth to three , parent education and literacy and working with unemployed 18- to 20-year-olds to help improve their literacy skills.

* Maggi Hunt, NLC, Pendower Hall, West Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE15 6PP. Tel: 0191 274 9836 Leeds Family of Schools

Aims to raise achievement by involving pupils, parents and the community in the creation of a new learning culture. The authority and higher and further education institutions are offering family literacy activities and parent workshops in schools in one area of the city.

* Anita McGreal, Leeds City Council, Community, Benefits and Rights, Civic Hall Annexe, Leeds LS1 1UR.Tel: 0113 247 4699.

Raising Early Achievement in Literacy Project

A joint project linking the local authority and Sheffield University to promote literacy development with parents. Aims to develop methods for working with parents, to promote literacy development among pre-school children, especially those who seem most likely to have problems when they go to school, and to meet the literacy needs of some of the parents involved.

* Dr Peter Hannon, Reader in Education, Sheffield REAL Project, University of Sheffield, 388 Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2JA.

Birmingham Core Skills Development Partnership

Aims to raise levels of literacy, numeracy and information technology to exceed national targets working through pre-school and primary schoolchildren, adults, employers and volunteers. Strong emphasis on training for volunteers, including parents, to support early literacy development, and training for schools to improve language and literacy teaching.

* Core Skills Development Partnership Project, 100 Broad Street, Birmingham B15 1AETel: 0121 248 8083.

* "The Literacy File: A guide to teaching literacy to children and adults" by John Bald was helpful in compiling this survey. It is joint-winner of the 1997 UK Reading Association's Donald Moyle Award and costs Pounds 45. Published by John Bald, 7 Symonds Lane, Linton, Cambridgeshire CB1 6HY. Tel: 01223 891069

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