Time for strategy to make an impact;Opinion

1st May 1998 at 01:00
In the year since the election, the Government has made plain the priority it attaches to the national literacy strategy. It has set the target, consulted on and published the strategic plan, invested the pound;59 million (plus another pound;23m for school books), distributed the national literacy strategy framework for teaching and been in constant dialogue with teachers and local authorities about implementation.

All that was about preparing the ground. This is the term when the strategy will begin to have an impact. Every primary head and literacy co-ordinator - along with a governor from every school - will receive two days' training in leading and managing the literacy strategy over the next few weeks.

Shortly, every school will receive its literacy training pack which sets out in six modules the content necessary for the training for all staff to be delivered over the next year or so. The training materials are clear and comprehensive.

Of course, some schools will choose to adapt them to take account of their own circumstances but no one will have to reinvent the wheel. They are designed to minimise extra workload. For the first time, the entitlement of every primary teacher to know, understand and be able to use best practice in the key area of literacy has been recognised.

At this point there is, of course, some uncertainty among teachers about implementation. It is reassuring that heads and teachers in schools where the literacy strategy model has already been implemented are enthusiastic, not least because they have seen how their professionalism is enhanced and how their pupils benefit. Several have commented that it has been the most exciting development in their professional career. For other teachers, especially before the training starts, it is hardly surprising that they are anxious about the change.

Those of us with responsibility for the implementation of the strategy can help to alleviate anxiety in a number of ways. First, we can assure teachers that the model we are putting forward is based on the experience of national literacy project (NLP) schools, on the experience of many other successful primary schools and on research.

We have not been foolish enough to implement slavishly the findings of any one research project: rather we have sought to build upon the lessons of many. Ted Wragg wrote recently that he wanted to see just one reference to research we have drawn upon. He could start with the work of Marilyn Jaeger Adams, Bob Slavin and Peter Hill as well as our own NLP, but there are many more.

Secondly, we can assure primary teachers that as we implement the strategy, we will seek to learn from them. We will want to know which parts of it are working well and which need to be refined. We will do so through formal evaluation, through our network of literacy contacts at local and regional level and through the teacher representatives on the literacy and numeracy strategy group.

Thirdly, we need to get across the message that the new approach to teaching literacy will take time to adopt. Schools will introduce the literacy hour from the beginning of September - but the experience of pilot schools is that it takes time to adapt to new methods which in many cases will be radically different from current practice. It may be half-term in the autumn before every aspect of the literacy hour is functioning smoothly.

Finally, we will need to emphasise the integral relationship between what primary teachers will be doing and the National Year of Reading - which will be promoting literacy across the culture and through all the mass media. Our goal, after all, is to give every child the power and joy that come from reading and writing well.

Michael Barber heads the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit.

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