Julie Henry’s report “Millions wasted on catch-up classes” (12 October 2001, TES 3) should be a wake-up call for us all and the Government in particular. It does not have to be this way.
In my LEA there is research evidence over five years with synthetic phonics for first-time teaching of literacy which ensures that 100% of pupils by the end of Reception are reading and spelling at least to their age levels. Averages of 16 months ahead for reading and 18 months ahead for spelling have been achieved for the last three years, for cohorts of about 90 pupils each year. It has also been found that pupils who have this ‘flying start’ with their literacy do not lose their advantage as they move through school.
There is other experimental research nationally which can endorse such findings. So, we should be able to ensure that the very best start for Reception pupils can avoid literacy disability occurring in the first place.
Over the last two years a synthetic phonic programme, Sound Discovery, has been trialled both in the primary and secondary schools as an intervention or ‘catch-up’ programme (as well as for first-time teaching). It has been used for slow-to-start pupils in KS1, for failing KS2 and KS3 pupils and dyslexic pupils.
The following are recent results for a group of 20 pupils in Year 7. They received a 30 minutes Sound Discovery intervention, three times a week for 6 months and achieved a 2 years gain in spelling. Other positive spin-offs for this group were reported; improved attention, listening skills, motivation and behaviour management.
The programme is also being used by the Behaviour Support Team across phases and in the Pupil Referral Unit to improve curriculum access. It improves social and academic inclusion for disaffected pupils with severe behavioural problems when they are returned and reintegrated into their mainstream classrooms.
The Sound Discovery framework provides a clear teaching focus by means of its incremental and sequential progression. The teaching principles are logical and based on psychological learning theory. Lessons are oral, interactive and lively with good pace. Teaching assistants can be used for delivery as well as teachers.
This does not cost “millions” but it is very effective. It could transform the “alarm”, which the TES speculated that the Government must be feeling over the failure of its catch-up classes, into hope for the future.
Dr. Marlynne GrantChartered Educational Psychologist