The thinking behind early intervention

12th December 1997 at 00:00
Early intervention was born out of the recognition that learning needs to start long before a child comes to school, and that some parents are unable to give their children the kind of pre-school support they need to form the basis of a successful school life. Early intervention aims to provide that support from within the school.

The results of Edinburgh's three-year pilot project were announced in the summer. The four schools experienced a huge improvement in reading ability among their P1-3 pupils; from a situation where over 40 per cent of children were having real problems, now only 10 per cent are having serious difficulties.

The thinking behind early intervention can be applied freely. At Granton, the nursery classrooms are a riot of colourful print. Pictures painted by the children always have their name printed on them. Murals are captioned with big "Look at" and "Here is" signs, which are some of the first words the children will come across in the reading scheme in P1. There are letter-shaped cutters on the dough table, magnetic letters on boards, and books everywhere. Claire Fullarton, the nursery nurse, points out one four-year-old patiently "reading" to a younger classmate.

There is nothing revolutionary at the school - most nurseries look much the same. It is simply a re-emphasis, a conscious effort to produce a print-rich environment, introducing very young children to the world of letters and words while retaining the bottom line of learning through play. "It's working on the old premise that prevention is better than cure," says Teresa Mooney, the headteacher.

Further up the school, too, the influence is at work. Mooney is now turning her attention to how best to support pupils who return to "normal" classes after their period of intensive reading recovery, and how the remarkable success of the early years programme can be sustained through to P7. "It is a question, " she says, "of making the best use possible of what is available. However, " she smiles, "if anyone cares to give us more, we'll make the best use of that, too."

Granton is also keen to spread the word outside the school. Pam Roberts is giving a presentation on her methods to other teachers, and is keen to share her ideas and experience now that the programme has been extended to 24 schools in Edinburgh.

Enquiries have come from South Morningside Primary in Edinburgh, from Lanarkshire, from West Lothian. "It's rippling out," says Teresa Mooney. "We want to focus on sharing our expertise. There is no point in every school reinventing the wheel. The basic core of the programme is the same for everyone, and then it can be adapted to the needs of individual pupils. "

Funding for early intervention in all the local authorities in Scotland is now secured for the next three years, to the tune of Pounds 24 million. The success story is only beginning.

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