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Children who struggle to read are not beyond help

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Emily Tanner, Head of Children, Families & Work .
Tags: children and young people, education, Evaluation of Every Child a Reader, Reading Recovery, poverty

Last week the Department for Education published its annual Key Stage 2 results. The positive news is that pupils starting secondary school this September have a good grasp of the ‘three Rs’ and there has been an increase in the percentage of 11 year olds reaching expected levels in reading, writing and maths.

However, as Schools Minister Nick Gibb was quick to point out, ‘more needs to be done’. A third of pupils leaving primary school this summer didn’t achieve expected levels in all of the three subjects and one in every ten boys has the reading age of a seven year old. A closer look at the statistics shows that the proportion achieving the expected level in reading this year is in fact the same as four years ago.

While the SATS approach to assessment is hotly debated, there’s little denying that the education system still struggles to engage children who don’t take to reading during their early years at school. There are many reasons for this. For some children there are wider communication issues at stake, a problem highlighted recently by ‘poverty tsar’ Frank Field. Early learning risk factors, physical and clinical conditions also play their part.

But it’s also true to say that these children are by no means ‘lost causes’. New evidence shows that intensive reading support can have a positive impact on children who start school labelled a ‘low achiever’. Our report, Evaluation of Every Child a Reader, shows that both boys and girls can benefit from Reading Recovery, a programme of daily one-to-one support from a specially trained teacher.

The majority (86%) of pupils included in our evaluation who took part in Reading Recovery were assessed by their teacher as having reached Level 1 or above by the end of Year 1. This is in comparison to 60% of similar pupils from comparison schools, who received other, less intensive forms of support. Reading Recovery also helped pupils acquire key skills viewed as the ‘building blocks’ of reading, such as decoding text and comprehension. And we also found that the programme increased children’s enjoyment of reading.

More research is needed if we’re to understand how the impact of reading support can be sustained over time, but it’s clear that children who struggle to read can be helped. Intensive early support may be costly, but the benefits of learning to read last a lifetime.

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