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The Preliminary Report of the Literacy Task Force

Chaired by Professor Michael Barber

Published for Consultation
on 27th February 1997


Michael Barber (Chair)
John Botham
Ken Follett
Simon Goodenough
Mary Gray
David Pitt-Watson
David Reynolds
Anne Waterhouse
Diane Wright
Mike Raleigh (OFSTED)







The Literacy Task Force was established on 31st May 1996 by David Blunkett, Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment. It was charged with developing, in time for an incoming Labour government, a strategy for substantially raising standards of literacy m primary schools in England over a five to ten year period.

Since the group was established, we have met monthly. A number of outside experts and representatives of important strands of opinion have made contributions to those meetings. The Chair has had over 40 further meetings with other individuals arid groups. Hundreds more have submitted views in writing.

We have been very encouraged by the widespread welcome for the idea of a steady, consistent strategy which is sustained over a long period and by the almost unanimous agreement that raising standards in literacy ought to be a central priority for the education service as a whole.

Our aim is to draw on the huge amount of information and thinking that have been put at our disposal to produce a final report by the end of May 1997. If we are to achieve our goal of designing a strategy which can stand the test of time, it is essential that it is founded on the best available information and commands widespread support. By publishing a substantial document for consultation at this stage, setting out our thinking, we hope to be laying strong foundations for our eventual recommendations.


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1.In the society of the 21st century, knowledge and information will be the keys to success or failure. Only the well-educated will be able to act effectively. Young people who fail in the education system will be all too likely to become part of a group of people living in our society but not of it, unable to act as employees, citizens or even, perhaps, parents. In the society of the future, a good education will surely become a basic human need - as basic as food, shelter and warmth.
2.Only if everyone is well-educated and able to learn continuously will we be able to reap the benefits of this emerging society and ensure that they are fairly distributed. Seeking to create these circumstances has implications for a wide range of policy areas, but few would doubt that an essential first step towards its creation, should be to ensure that, by the end of primary education, all children can read and write well.
3. It is not after all an accident that we call reading and writing "basics". That is what they are. Along with acquiring the habits of mind on which learning depends, they are the building blocks on which all further learning is predicated. Yet our practice has not been to treat them as basics. Indeed, throughout the 20th century, it has been accepted that a proportion of children would pass through the education system without mastering them. This is not just a recent phenomenon. Among 16 and 17 year old conscripts to the fray in the first year of the second world war. for example, virtually a quarter were illiterate. Much more recent figures from the Basic Skills Agency suggest that as many as fifteen per cent of twenty-one year olds have limited literacy skills. Data from the Secondary Heads' Association published in 1995 revealed similar concerns among eleven year olds. Meanwhile the NFER suggested, when it reviewed the situation for the National Commission on Education in 1993, that standards in literacy are much the same now as they were 30 years ago. Given the rate of progress in other spheres of activity and in other countries over the same period. this is a disturbing conclusion.
4. It is the view of the Literacy Task Force that we need to begin to take the term basics literally and to design an education system which ensures that all children are taught to read well by the age of eleven. Put another way, the education service should do whatever it takes to make this possible. This is the first step towards the creation of a truly literate nation and a prerequisite of a learning society.
5. The realisation of this ambitious vision is, in large part, a responsibility of the education service. The proposals in this report are designed to enhance its capability to do so and to contribute to the creation among teachers of a culture of continuous self-improvement. We do not believe that the education service on its own, however good it becomes, can fully realise this vision because we believe that the culture of this country itself needs changing too. Parents, business and the media also have significant roles to play in raising literacy standards. Indeed, the realisation of our vision will require a crusade in which everyone plays their pan. In addition to setting out a strategy and making practical proposals, we appeal - unashamedly - to the idealism of everyone involved. We have to put behind us both complacency and the all-too-prevalent British tendency to slough off responsibility onto others. We are convinced - not least by the overwhelmingly positive response to our work so far - that the time is ripe to develop a new culture with new high expectations of what is possible.
6. That is why our report, in addition to making proposals for the education service, also makes recommendations for ensuring that parents and schools work closely together and suggests how business, publishers and the media can play their pan.
7. It is our firmly held belief that, if all these groups take their responsibilities seriously, then the dramatic progress necessary to meet our ambitious target is possible. Indeed, we would like to be able to guarantee to parents that if they play their full part in collaboration with the school, then their children will learn to read well. The achievement of this goal across the society will not happen overnight. It will happen only as a result of a coherent strategy, broadly supported and consistently applied over a period of years. That is what our proposals are designed to put in place.


8. When David Blunkett established the Literacy Task Force, he asked us to design a strategy to meet an ambitious target; namely that:
"By the end of a second term of a Labour government. all children leaving primary school... will have reached a reading age of at least eleven."
9. The target is clear. Less clear is the question of how progress towards it should be measured. The reading tests that provide reading ages generate a normal distribution around an average which is then described as the reading age of the cohort. There is clearly a difficulty about basing an absolute target on this kind of norm-referenced testing approach. For this reason, we have chosen to "translate" our target into National Curriculum terms. Under the National Curriculum, Level 4 is the standard expected of eleven year olds. On this basis, performance in the reading component of the Key Stage 2 (KS2) English tests could therefore provide a fixed reference point. It will do so, of course, only if the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) and its successor body, the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority (QNCA) are rigorous in ensuring that Level 4 is fixed. We recommend that the target should become:
"By the end of a second term of a Labour government, all children in primary school will achieve at least Level 4 in reading in the National Curriculum by the age of eleven."
10. We would hope that practically every child will achieve this target, although we recognise that a small proportion of children may not be able to do so because of their special educational needs. The experience of, for example, New Zealand and Victoria, Australia is that this proportion will be significantly less than five per cent.


11. At the moment, there remains a degree of uncertainty among teachers about precisely what Level 4 in English means. As with other aspects of the National Curriculum, the level descriptors leave considerable room for interpretation and teachers come to understand the Levels through experience. In practice, Level 4, at least in reading and writing, is being defused more tightly through the Key Stage 2 tests. There have only been two full runs of these tests - 1995 and 1996 - and the tests varied slightly from one year to the next.
12. There seems to be an acceptance that the 1996 tests were an improvement on their predecessors. We anticipate that, as the testing system becomes established, a common understanding of the standard represented by Level 4 in English will be established among teachers and other relevant groups.
13. We recognise that, although the target is confined to the reading component of English, reading and writing need, in practice, to be taught together in a mutually reinforcing way and that the two skill areas are integrally linked.
14. SCAA's analysis of the 1996 KS2 English tests proves this point. It suggests that there is a very close correlation between pupil performance in the reading component of the KS2 tests and English as a whole (correlation 0.84) and that 58 per cent of pupils achieved Level 4 in the reading component of English in 1996 compared to 57 per cent in English as a whole. For our purposes, it is essential that the reading component of English is published separately from English as a whole. SCAA recommended that this should be done in 1996 but the government - mistakenly in our view - turned this recommendation down.
15. Teacher assessment results should also be made publicly available along with results from the tests and used by schools to inform their targets and strategies for moving towards them. Over time, we would anticipate that the results of the externally marked tests and the teacher assessment results will in any case converge.
16. We also believe that there ought to be some milestone targets on the way to the ultimate target which, seen from the present, may appear to many to be unachievable. We believe two such milestone targets would be beneficial.

i) A target relating to the percentage of eleven year olds who have achieved the ultimate target. In 1995, 48 per cent did so. In 1996, 57 per cent did so. We intend to set an interim target of 80 per cent or more doing so by 2000-2001.

ii) Targets relating to the performance at age 7 of the cohort who will become eleven in the year 2006. If they are to come close to the ultimate target, then well over 90 per cent should be achieving level 2 of the reading component of English in the KS1 National Curriculum tests.

17. Finally on targets, we are conscious of the motivational force of individual school targets set by the schools themselves. We recognise that schools will have different starting points in terms of standards and that for schools with socially disadvantaged intakes, the national target will be more difficult to achieve. Some of our proposals later on address disadvantage in a practical way. At this point, we simply want to urge that as schools move towards the national target, they should want to establish targets for themselves based on the notion of improvement against previous best. Any school recording year-on-year improvements will be contributing to the achievement of our national target. This approach will help schools with disadvantaged intakes to gain the recognition and sense of achievement they will need.
18. It is important that information about primary school performance is published and reported to parents. In addition, national progress towards the national target should he reported annually to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
19. In addition to ensuring that parents and the public are well informed, we believe that each primary school needs to he given data which enable it to compare its performance in both reading and English as a whole to national performance, to other local schools and to schools with comparable intakes. We welcome the work that SCAA/QNCA is currently undertaking to provide for every school high quality comparative data, based on the national test results. We believe that such information is an essential prerequisite if primary schools are to set their own improvement targets and monitor progress towards them as we believe they should.


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20. Clearly, it is important to establish how the education service is performing currently before going on to describe the nature of a strategy for improving it. Given the target we have set ourselves, the best starting point for examining the current situation is an examination of the KS2 English test results.
21. International comparisons of children's achievements in reading suggest Britain is not performing well, with a slightly below average position in international literacy "league tables". Most studies show also a long "tail" of underachievement in Britain. and a relatively poor performance from lower ability students. Whilst general societal factors (such as the status given to school learning or the prevalence of television viewing amongst adolescents) may be responsible for some of the poor British performance, most are agreed that the educational system bears the main responsibility.
22. The results for KS2 English in 1995 and 1996 show how far there is to go in relation to the target we have set:

Figure I

23.For the reasons given above, detailed data have not so far been made available nationally on the results in the reading component of English alone, but performance in the reading component of English is very close to these figures for English as a whole. As Figure 1 reveals. the percentage reaching the target level we have set has risen from 48 per cent in 1995 to 57 per cent in 1996. This substantial step forward is due to a combination of factors including a clearer understanding among teachers of the nature of the tests, better preparation of the pupils for the test and most importantly better teaching from teachers now able to give more attention to the basics after the considerable broadening of the primary school curriculum in the early 1990s.
24. It is encouraging that there has been progress over the last year or so, on which our strategy can build. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency. More detailed analysis reveals just how far there is to go. The analysis that follows is based on the 1995 KS2 English results but it is already clear that in-depth analysis of the 1996 results will confirm it.
25. Figure 2 (below) examines the relationship between the percentage of pupils in a school achieving Level 4 and the percentage of pupils who take up free school meals. Free school meal uptake is generally agreed to be the best proxy available for social disadvantage.
26. Firstly, in 1995, only in somewhere between 300 and 400 primary schools did 100 per cent of pupils achieve Level 4 in the KS2 English tests. The analysis of the 1996 results is sure to reveal an improvement but it is unlikely to show that more than 5 - I 0 per cent of primary schools at best have achieved the target. This demonstrates on the one hand that the achievement of our target is possible but, on the other hand. just how far there is to go. The first strategic lesson therefore is that expectations and overall performance need to be substantially raised.
27. The second strategic lesson is the dramatic and profoundly disturbing range of performance among schools with similar intakes. For example, when those schools with fewer than 5 per cent of pupils on free school meals (I.e. with a highly disadvantaged intake) are examined, some have 100 per cent of pupils achieving Level 4, while at the other end of the scale, in some of them as few as 20 per cent of pupils are achieving the same level. In other words, the best schools in this group are already achieving our target while some comparable schools are falling far below it and indeed below the average of the most disadvantaged group of schools. Many parents in leafy suburbs and wealthy county areas will find this state of affairs profoundly disturbing. Meanwhile, among the most disadvantaged schools, the range is from 70 per cent achieving Level 4 to zero per cent. The graph shows a similar dramatic and unacceptable range across all primary schools, irrespective of their intake. It is important to note that on this graph, outliers have been deleted. The real variability is therefore even greater than appears here. In short, at present, whether children learn to read well is a lottery in both advantaged and disadvantaged areas. Thus, the second lesson is that any strategy must address the issue of consistency how to encourage all schools to achieve in line with the best schools with comparable intakes.

Figure 2 Performance at KS2: The impact of inconsistency and disadvantage

28.Thirdly, it is clear that, generally speaking, the higher the levels of disadvantage, the smaller the percentage of pupils who achieve Level 4. The slope of the bold black lines the average in each case - represents this fact. The graph therefore makes plain that if our target is to be met across the country there is, on the whole, much further to go for schools with disadvantaged intakes. The third lesson, therefore, from our analysis is that - since we are determined that society should have the same high expectations of all its pupils - our strategy needs to include practical proposals to enable schools with more disadvantaged intakes to succeed.


29. Evidence from OFSTED inspection reports reinforces concern about the variation of performance among schools. For example, OFSTED suggests that reading standards at KS1 are low in about 9 per cent of schools, with many pupils in those schools having a weak grasp of the necessary skills and little understanding of what they read. Standards at KS2 are low in 13 per cent of schools, with many pupils having poor skills and a narrow experience of reading. In writing, standards at KS l are low in some 16 per cent of schools, with many pupils demonstrating uneven development in some 16 per cent of schools, with many pupils demonstrating uneven development in their work and making inadequate progress. Standards at KS2 are poor in over 20 per cent of schools, with weak spelling and sentence construction, limited vocabulary and lack of attention to improving work through redrafting, being the main problems.
30. Inspection findings confirm, as might be expected, that a coherent, well-founded approach to the teaching of literacy is the major factor affecting standards of achievement.
31. In spite of these concerns, OFSTED suggests that standards in reading are satisfactory or better in over 90 per cent of schools at KS I and 87 per cent at KS2. This suggests that performance which inspectors currently describe as having "a balance of strengths and weaknesses" is certainly not sufficient to ensure that most, never mind all, pupils achieve Level 4. If we are even to approach the target we have set, then expectations of what is considered "satisfactory", and indeed "good" by OFSTED, need to be substantially raised across the system.
32. As we have seen, international comparisons reinforce this data. It is clear that Britain is outperformed by a group of countries (e.g. Finland, United States, Sweden, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway) and is located within a "middle" group (including Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Spain etc.) which is in turn ahead of a 'bottom' group (including Indonesia and Venezuela). Most disturbing in international studies is evidence of the existence of a "long tail" in the results among British schools, since performance of lower ability pupils is substantially below that of other countries.
33. There is a long way to travel over the decade ahead. We shall only achieve the progress necessary if, in addition to ensuring that the whole society contributes to the literacy strategy (as we urged in the opening section of this document), government and the education service explicitly and practically address the problems of overall standards and consistency and disadvantage which this analysis has revealed.


34. Before we are in a position to recommend how to put right this evidently unacceptable state of affairs, it is necessary to examine briefly how it came about.
35. Concerns about literacy standards were expressed from the rrid-1970s onwards, most notably in James Callaghan's speech at Ruskin College in 1976. However, prior to 1988, no systematic attempt was made to deal with the problems that Callaghan and others identified. The prevailing culture was voluntaristic with the extent of change depending on the extent to which local education authorities, headteachers or teachers chose to become involved in it. The notion of professional autonomy was strongly embedded in the education service, yet there were insufficient mechanisms in place either within the profession itself or in the education service more generally to ensure either that practice was based firmly on evidence or that best practice was rapidly adopted or even adopted at all by others. As a result, practice varied hugely from school to school. At best it was excellent, at worst a matter of anything goes. Since there was little or no published intonation about primary school performance and inspection practice varied from LEA to LEA, the pressure for change from outside schools was limited. Meanwhile. standards of and approaches to initial teacher education varied dramatically.
36. The reforms from 1988 onwards changed this state of affairs but replaced the old problems with new ones. The National Curriculum. for example, was so broad and detailed across ten subjects that it distracted primary teachers. at least for a while, from the 3 'R's. Worse still, while government ministers highlighted problems with the teaching of literacy in their rhetoric, they put in place not a coherent strategy but rather a series of fleeting and unconnected initiatives such as Reading Recovery, the Better English Campaign and the National Literacy Project. Each of these had intrinsic merit but no attempt was made to link them together. Instead of sewing the seeds of a new, more productive harvest, they clutched at straws.
37. Meanwhile, the National Curriculum, national tests and OFSTED inspection provided growing evidence - on which this report has drawn - of the character and extent of the problem. Primary teachers found themselves, as a result, the target of extensive public criticism from politicians and the media but, even up to the present, no systematic attempt has been made to ensure that all primary teachers acquire the skills to teach reading in the way the most successful teachers do. In spite of ten years of radical reform, the capacity of the education service to disseminate best practice remains fatally flawed.
38.In the future, we have to do better, much better, than this. The strategy we set out in the remainder of this document combines what we now know about best practice in the teaching of reading with an appreciation of the lessons of ten years of education reform. Tony Blair has repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that effective change results from a judicious balance of pressure and support. Without too much exaggeration, it would be possible to describe the history of the last 30 years as 20 years of support without pressure and ten years of pressure without support. If we are able to transform literacy standards in the decade ahead, we shall certainly need both.


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39. We recognise that our target is ambitious. We also believe that our evidence - both national and international - suggests it is achievable. Bringing about a dramatic improvement in literacy standards is therefore possible, but only if there is a consistent national strategic approach over five to ten years. This in turn demands a new, mature, active partnership. All those involved, including teachers, parents, governors, government, the media, publishers and business must accept their part of the responsibility for taking up the challenge.
40. Clearly Labour's literacy strategy will be embedded in its overall crusade for higher standards. We do not wish to spell out again all the elements of that strategy here but we would point out that our plans assume the implementation of important Labour commitments which are relevant to the work of the Task Force. These include:

i) the introduction of pre-school education for all four year olds whose parents want it and the progressive extension of nursery provision to three year olds as resources become available;

ii) the provision of funding to enable infant classes to number no more than 30 through phasing out the Assisted Places Scheme;

iii) Labour's standards agenda with its emphasis on school improvement, target-setting, the provision of comparative data, enhanced leadership, home-school agreements, improved discipline and a focus on the improvement of teaching and learning, which should combine to encourage all schools to perform in line with the best, thus bringing greater consistency and reliability;

iv) an emphasis on zero tolerance of failure and therefore focused intervention in schools which have failed or are heading towards failure;

v) the implementation by local education authorities of their education development plans in which literacy should be a high priority;

vi) the plans for a new deal for the teaching profession, including the introduction of a new General Teaching Council, advanced skills teachers and the provision of paraprofessional support;

vii) the investment of a greater proportion of GNP in education by the end of the first term of a Labour government than is currently the case, particularly if the growth is predominantly focused on primary education;

viii) the repair and maintenance of school buildings, especially in disadvantaged areas, through the public-private sector partnership proposed by David Blunkett in April 1996.

41. The successful implementation of these policies will provide the kind of positive context in which our literacy strategy can be put into practice.


42. The core of our strategy necessarily relates to improving the teaching of reading in primary schools. It is only through doing so that the problems of consistency mentioned above and the overall standards of reading in primary schools which we have identified can be addressed.
43. There have been few more vigorous educational controversies in the last decade than the one over how reading should be taught. Opposing sides in a vigorous national debate took to the barricades with banners proclaiming their loyalty to "phonics" or "real books". But while this debate has raged, research and the understanding of "best practice" have moved on. We now know a great deal about the best technologies for the teaching of reading and that they include a recognition of the critical importance of phonics in the early years. The chief strategic task is to ensure that primary teachers and schools are well-informed about best practice and have the skills to act upon it.
44. There are a number of general factors which characterise effective teaching in general:
  • ensuring a good "match" between curriculum, teaching and the learners' varied needs;
  • good management of time, involving maximising learning time and pupils' levels of "time on task" in classrooms. and minimising the time spent on administration or control;
  • high levels of teacher 'higher order' interaction with classes, High frequency of questioning and frequent provision of feedback;
  • structured classrooms, with a limited range of activities being pursued at any one time and a limited range of lesson goals in any session.
45. Meanwhile, evidence from both OFSTED and research suggests that the successful teaching of literacy in general:
  • makes initial and continuing progress in reading and writing for all pupils a central objective of the school;
  • involves parents in positive and practical ways through discussions at school and work with pupils at home;
  • is based on a teaching programme which is thoroughly planned, with clear learning objectives, and provides direct teaching and careful assessment through to the end of KS2;
  • capitalises on pupils' enthusiasm for communication to make reading and writing challenging and enjoyable;
  • teaches all aspects of literacy explicitly, directly and intensively in their own right, and creates deliberate opportunities in the teaching of other subjects to extend experience and consolidate skills;
  • appreciates what pupils already know about language, and teaches them about the system of written language and how to recognise and correct their own errors;
  • shows good understanding of techniques for beginning reading and writing, of how to select and combine them and how to judge their impact;
  • uses carefully sequenced whole-class, group and individual work to focus on strategies and skills, with the teacher combining instruction, demonstration, questioning and discussion, providing structure for subsequent tasks, and giving help and constructive response;
  • makes use of systematic records of progress to monitor pupils' strengths and weaknesses, to intervene in a discriminating way and to plan the next stage of work;
  • follows clear procedures for the early identification of pupils with difficulties and gives them targeted and positive support;
  • makes good use of classroom assistants and volunteers, briefing them on how to work with pupils and to record what they do.
46. The successful teaching of reading in particular:
  • equips pupils at the earliest stage to draw on the sources of knowledge needed when reading for meaning, including phonic knowledge (simple and complex sound/symbol relationships), graphic knowledge (patterns within words), word recognition (a sight vocabulary which includes common features of words), grammatical knowledge (checking for sense through the ways words are organised) and contextual information (meaning derived from the text as a whole);
  • continues the direct teaching of reading techniques through both key stages, building systematically on the skills pupils have learnt earlier in, for example, tackling unfamiliar words, deduction and using texts to find information;
  • provides a range of reading material, usually based around a core reading programme, but substantially enriched with other good quality material, including information texts, used selectively to deepen reading experience and to provide choice at each level:
  • encourages library usage;
  • extends pupils' reading by focused work on challenging texts with the whole class or in groups, and involves frequent opportunities for pupils to hear, read and discuss texts and to think about the content and the language used;
  • gives time for productive individual reading at school and at home, and opportunities for pupils to share their response with others.
47. The National Literacy Project (NLP), established by the government last year, has developed a framework for teaching based precisely on this evidence. Our plans will build on its valuable work.


48. However well teachers are capable of teaching reading, they can only succeed fully if they are supported by effective school management. There is extensive evidence of the management strategies that work in educational and other organisations. Assuming there is a clear national view on how best to teach literacy, there is no reason to consider the management of literacy in primary schools any different from the management of other key educational priorities.
49. The following characteristics are crucially important in creating the setting for the development of literacy:

i) a well-informed headteacher who understands effective approaches to literacy, sets high expectations and provides consistent leadership;

ii) a systematic school approach to the professional development of teachers and other staff involved in the teaching of literacy;

iii) effective arrangements, which take account of national standards, for monitoring the progress in literacy of both individual children and the school as a whole;

iv) targets for each child, including those with special educational needs.

v) high expectations of what children are able to achieve in school and through regular homework;

vi) a strong climate of "academic push" in which high levels of achievement are reflected both in a school's "mission" and the use of regular homework;

vii) effective systems for communicating with parents about the performance of their child, the performance of the school as a whole, the teaching approach used by the school and the ways in which parents can help the school and especially their own child or children to achieve their literacy goals;

viii) the consistency and cohesion of the school's organisation;

ix) understanding how to ensure that money spent on books and other reading materials is spent wisely providing a range of graded levels of books, both fiction and non-fiction.

50. Clearly, ensuring that all schools benefit from such effective management must also be a key part of our strategy. In addition, it is important that governing bodies recognise the centrality of literacy and support the development of a strategic approach to it. It will be essential, through existing governor training programmes and other means to heighten governor awareness of the importance of literacy and to promote among governors the skills they need to oversee the strategy at school level.
51. In addition to gathering the evidence above, we have examined a number of literacy programmes both here and abroad. In particular, we studied programmes in both Western Australia and Victoria, which seem to be soundly based in the research evidence and broadly consistent with the OFSTED and research findings listed above. We have also paid close attention to the literacy strategy adopted in New Zealand which is generally recognised to have been one of the most successful English-speaking countries in terms of teaching literacy.
52. We have considered, too, the principles behind Robert Slavin's impressive Success for All project in the United States and have arranged discussions with him in order to learn more from a project which is internationally acknowledged as having been remarkably successful in raising literacy standards. The four key principles underpinning Slavin's approach can be summarised as:

i) prevention is better than cure;

ii) intervention should be early and intensive;

iii) a belief that all students can succeed is crucial;

iv) relentless determination to pursue the planned intervention is essential. We intend to apply each of these principles in the strategy we put forward.

53. We have also examined in depth the materials developed by the recently established National Literacy Project (NLP) in this country which currently involves schools in 13 LEAs and is led by John Stannard. The NLP's framework for teaching is firmly based on the OFSTED data, research evidence and international experience. It has the major additional advantage of having the active support of the DfEE and each of the major agencies with an interest in teaching methodology. The central features of the NLP's approach are:
  • a requirement that each participating school will provide literacy lessons, timetabled for an hour a day. During this "literacy hour" the project requires that for at least 60 per cent of the time pupils are working with the teacher either in whole class work or in groups;
  • a clear focus on literacy instruction during the hour. The teachers in the project are required to develop the range of teaching strategies this requires.
  • clarity about three "strands" of the reading programme which are as follows:
word levelphonics, spelling and vocabulary
sentence levelgrammar and punctuation
text levelcomprehension and composition
54. As participating schools only began to implement the carefully planned programme in January 1997, it is too early to be certain of its effects. However, given its firm grounding in both international research and the evidence from OFSTED inspection and the central place it gives to systematically teaching phonics, we believe it has a sound basis in evidence of what works.
55. As it is implemented, those responsible for the NLP will surely learn from experience and be able to refine their plans. We wonder, for example, on the basis of comparison with the programme in Victoria, whether the NLP encourages teachers to assess pupils sufficiently on a day-to-day basis and to use such assessment to inform instruction.
56. Minor caveats notwithstanding, the work of the National Literacy Project seems likely to make a major contribution. There is nothing to be gained from a new government coming in and overturning good work which is already in progress. On the contrary, the National Literacy Project provides a helpful beginning from which we can develop our strategy.


57. Our overall strategy should be overseen by a Literacy Strategy Group chaired by a senior DfEE official based in the enhanced Standards and Effectiveness Unit in the DfEE which Labour intends to create. It should include senior representatives of OFSTED, SCAA, TTA, BSA and the NLP, as well as experienced educators and a representative from the No. 10 Policy Unit.
58.The Literacy Strategy Group should commission an independent evaluation of the NLP as soon as possible after an election. It should involve comparison of the participating schools with a control group. It should be undertaken with the specific goal of showing how the model could be refined and built upon to form the basis of a national approach to the teaching of literacy in primary schools. It would need to examine not only the details of where the approach works well and where it needs improvement. It would also need to draw on other innovative primary school approaches such as target-grouping, the use of trained classroom assistants and effective home-school collaboration, Reading Recovery methods and the use of information technology, each of which, we believe, has a contribution to make. Above all, it should consider the strategic policy implications of spreading the approach from a relatively small number of volunteer schools to large numbers and ultimately to all schools.
59. This evaluation of the National Literacy Project's work, alongside the evidence from other strategic literacy interventions such as "Success for All" in the USA, and those in Western Australia and Victoria, would provide the basis for the next and perhaps most important step in our strategy, the teacher development programme.
60. We hope that as the teacher development programme outlined below is implemented, the NLP will continue its work in those areas where it is already established. It will provide a vital source of experience and knowledge for the second phase of our strategy from 2001 onwards and continue in the meantime to make a contribution to raising standards of literacy in areas of disadvantage.


61. The ability of primary school teachers to teach reading is by far the most important factor in whether or not children learn to read well. If all primary school pupils are to read well, then all primary teachers need to learn how to teach reading well. Obvious though this may seem, it is not the case at present. There is substantial evidence, as we have seen, that standards in the teaching of reading vary hugely from school to school. Many primary teachers have not had systematic opportunities to update their skills to take account of the evidence described above. This means that their teaching approach is often based upon a distant recollection of what they learnt when they trained and their experience since then. As we have seen, this is an unacceptably haphazard state of affairs. Primary teachers have found themselves a target for criticism, particularly in relation to the teaching of reading over the last few years. Yet the system has not done nearly enough to enable them to change what they do.
62. Amazingly, there has never been a major national initiative to enable all primary teachers to learn the most effective methods of teaching reading and how to apply them. The government has not created the structures or incentives to ensure that all schools learn from the best practice of the most effective schools. Instead, there has been a series of unconnected initiatives which, while usually worthy in themselves, have neither been interlinked nor had the scope or ambition necessary to tackle the problem across the country. If teachers are to change, they need opportunities to learn the best approaches and incentives to adopt them. Ultimately, we need a culture in which primary teachers themselves expect to adopt the best methods as a matter of professional pride.
63. The ambitious strategy we propose will, we hope, offer them the opportunity to do so cost-effectively and provide incentives to ensure they are taken up. If what we propose is implemented, it will be the most ambitious attempt ever in this country to change for the better teaching approaches across the entire education service. Our teacher development plans have two elements. The first relates to the initial training of teachers; the second to the professional development of teachers already in the profession.

i) Initial Teacher Education (ITE)

64. The training of student primary teachers is currently governed by Circular 14/93 which sets out in some detail the course requirements and establishes a long list of "competences" which aspiring teachers are expected to acquire by the time they complete the course. Its weaknesses are that it is too broad and fails sufficiently to prioritise. The government, through the Teacher Training Agency. has recently published for consultation a National Curriculum for teacher education to be published early in 1997. We have not yet had time to examine it in detail but it appears to be a major advance on the arrangements currently in place. It also appears to be consistent with the approaches to the teaching of reading in the National Literacy Project.
65. We are certainly persuaded that under the present Circular, primary teacher training courses are prevented from giving sufficient attention to the teaching of reading. In New Zealand, for example, the amount of time devoted to reading instruction is double the 50 hours devoted to it here. We believe that in future every course of initial teacher education for primary teachers should give the highest possible priority to ensuring that all trainee teachers are taught - in accordance with nationally established criteria - how to teach literacy, and that the amount of time devoted to it should be substantially increased.
66. The New Zealand experience also provides another important insight. There, the student finds that teaching practice in school reinforces what has been learnt in the higher education institution (HEI) because there is a consistency of approach between schools and HEls. Here, even when the HEI prepares students excellently, there is no guarantee that the student will find a similar approach to the teaching of reading being followed in the school, where they spend two-thirds of their time. The result can be confusion for the student. As our overall strategy is implemented and variation of performance among schools is reduced, the room for confusion should be reduced too. In the meantime, it is an issue to which HEls and their partner schools should give careful attention. We recommend that the TTA should encourage those universities which have been found, through inspection, to be good at preparing students in the teaching of reading to play a part in training teachers in partner schools too.
67. Finally, we welcome Labour's plans to reintroduce the probationary year and urge that priority is given during it to ensuring that beginning primary teachers continue to develop their skills in the teaching of reading.

ii) Professional Development

68.In 1995-96, just under 15,000 people were recruited to primary ITE courses. Thus altering ITE, while crucial in the long term, does not bring substantial change in the short or medium term. The key to our strategy, therefore, must be to provide the 190,000 or so serving primary teachers with the skills they will require. A programme of professional development in the teaching of reading for all ordinary teachers is therefore essential.
69. Four groups, each with different development needs, will be targeted in our strategy:

i) all primary teachers who require the skills not just of teaching reading to beginners but of teaching those who can read to read with fluency and discrimination;

ii) literacy/language co-ordinators - those teachers in primary school with a responsibility for reading across the school - who require, in addition to the above, knowledge and understanding of how to devise and implement a coherent literacy strategy for the school;

iii) primary headteachers who need to understand the leadership and management implications of the policy we intend to propose;

iv) primary school governors who need to understand the implications of the literacy strategy for their work.

70. Logistically as well as professionally, providing high quality, cost effective training for each of these four groups presents a substantial challenge. Given the variation in the background, knowledge and expertise of the primary teaching force, the huge variation in primary school performance and the diversity of background and experience among school governors, the question is both complex in nature and large in scope. We are aware that many primary teachers will be cautious about yet another major strategic change affecting their work. However, we believe that by basing the change on evidence of what works and ensuring that the training is of the highest possible quality, we will be providing them with the incentive to participate enthusiastically in the training and to change their practice. The fact that the training will be based on what successful primary teachers are already doing and that the Literacy Strategy Group at the national level will involve successful practitioners will provide further incentive. Above all, the fact that primary teachers will be seen to be publicly responding constructively and systematically, to the literacy challenge will surely boost their public standing and enhance their status. We have consciously timed the main drive to retrain primary teachers during the National Year of Reading (see below) to enable this point to be emphasised. Instead of finding themselves the beleaguered targets of public criticism, we hope primary teachers will come to see themselves as playing a leading part in a major social transformation.
71. The constraints on implementing a major professional development strategy for primary teachers are as follows:

i) few primary teachers have any non-contact time;

ii) individual primary schools' professional development budgets are tightly constrained, especially in small schools;

iii) a wide variety of attitudes to change exists among primary schools, ranging from constructive, thoughtful response at one extreme to a suspicion of anything new and externally promoted at the other.

72. However, there are opportunities too.

i) Each year there are five training days on which teachers are required to work and pupils are not in school.

ii) There is evidence that increasing numbers of primary schools are becoming effective in managing their own affairs and therefore better at implementing change.

iii) There is evidence that increasing numbers of schools are anxious to be provided with good practice - based on evidence - on which they can build rather than being expected to invent it for themselves.

iv) Local education authorities such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West Sussex and Birmingham are in many cases providing an excellent infrastructure for the promotion of change and development in schools, particularly at primary level.

v) There is substantial expertise among the national agencies and organisations such as the Open University in the preparation and dissemination of information and distance learning materials.

vi) Labour's plan to provide a "Teachers' Centre" accessible through the internet will, in the long run, provide a new and powerful means of disseminating information and spreading best practice.

73. The professional development strategy we wish to put forward is designed to take advantage of these opportunities. The broad timetable for it is set out below.

By When?What?
End September 1997Management structure for strategy including Literacy Strategy Group in place. Evaluation of NLP in progress. Specification for distance learning materials prepared.
End April 1998National distance learning materials being commissioned and prepared. These would draw on the work of the National Literacy Project, the evaluation of its work during 1997 and other research evidence and take account of the National Curriculum. The materials would include training activities, reading materials, video, CD Rom etc. Four modules would he included
  • Awareness Raising: The Nature of the Challenge
  • Teaching Reading to Beginners
  • From Functional Reading to Fluency
  • The Management of Literacy
Special educational needs and the need for teachers to extend their own knowledge about language should be taken into account in each of them. The preparation of these materials would be put out to tender by the Literacy Strategy Group and the cost of them covered by existing budgets for 1997-98 of OFSTED, SCAA and TTA. The development of the materials should involve a trialing stage
End April 1998Through the existing Literacy Centres, between two and rive "consultants" in each LEA (depending on size) would he trained and prepared for the implementation of the national strategy. The possibility of linking LEAs in regional consortia for this purpose should be considered. The cost would he met from within the existing GEST budget.
End Summer Term 1998All primary schools would be expected to devote one of the five training days to awareness raising on the issues involved in the new national literacy strategy. This session would be for all staff and open to governors. They would be supported by the first module of the distance learning materials and the trained consultants.
End Autumn Term 1998All primary headteachers and literacy co-ordinators should receive two days' training in the management of literacy. The head and literacy co-ordinator from each school would attend the same training sessions. It would be based on the module in the distance learning materials and provided across an LEA by the trained consultants. The training materials would, in addition, be available through the "virtual" Teachers' Centre, assuming it is in place by then. Appropriate parts of it could also be made available through the BBC's Learning Zone. Funding for all this would be provided within the 1998-9 GEST grant. Headteachers would be asked to make a major input to their next governors' meeting on the implications of the strategy for the governing body./TD>
End Summer Term 1999Over the Spring and Summer terms of 1999, schools would be expected to devote four of their training days to training in the teaching of literacy. This would coincide with the planned National Year of Reading which would be urging everyone, not just teachers and parents, to promote reading
The training would be based on the nationally developed distance learning materials. LEAs would be asked to devise and implement plans - drawing on inspection evidence - to support that training among those schools which needed it most. This would avoid the problem identified in the Alexander, Rose & Woodhead report of underperforming schools "recycling their own inadequacy." Small schools would be urged to cluster in order to share expertise and benefit from economies of scale.
During School Year 1999-2000 and thereafterIn the year following the major training initiative, its impact would be evaluated by OFSTED and others, using a rigorous approach based on hard outcome data and involving valid comparison of before and after.
All primary schools would be expected to devise individualised training plans in the teaching of literacy for any newly qualified teacher and to devote at least one of the five training days each year to the teaching of literacy.
The LEA consultants would be charged with following through the training that had taken place the previous year.
From time to time, new distance learning materials would be devised to support this process to ensure that all teachers kept up to date with the latest evidence of what works.
The GEST grant which covered the training costs in 1998-9 would he sustained at the same level for at least two further years to provide sustained support for schools in disadvantaged areas.
1998-2000 The Teacher Training Agency would he asked to examine its entire professional development framework, including HEADLAMP, the NPQH and subject leader qualifications to ensure they prioritised the national literacy strategy.
2000-2001The impact of the strategy so far would he evaluated and the second phase of the strategy refined to take account of the lessons learned.
74.These plans will be costed in detail but overall represent a highly cost-effective way of carrying out as rapidly as possible an essential task. It is our view that they could be paid for from within the existing GEST programme and grants to the relevant national agencies, OFSTED, TTA and SCAA.


75. At various places in this report, reference is made to the crucial role of local education authorities in implementing the literacy strategy. The purpose of this section is to bring together and summarise the contribution they will be expected to make.
76. Labour's overall standards agenda has given LEAs a vital role. In Excellence for Everyone, the following roles are emphasised:

"The local education authority will become a raiser of standards rather than a chain of command... LEAs have an essential role in helping struggling schools, Providing advice and support - and intervening to raise standards. LEAs should become champions of children, providing information to parents and schools and developing local networks to help improve standards. But the most important new role for all LEAs will be to set Education Development Plans.

Labour will expect all LEAs to set strategic Education Development Plans on a three year rolling basis detailing how standards will be raised in schools in their area. Such education development plans will form the basis of each locality's contribution towards the national drive for rapid and radical improvement in standards and effectiveness across the country. EDPs will reflect the development plans and targets drawn up by individual schools, and they will be developed in partnership with representatives from education networks bringing together parents, governors, the business community, colleges and universities, and diocese and voluntary sector representatives. The plan will set clear targets to raise standards and increase participation in education both pre- and post-16. They will be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment."

77. These plans will need to give high priority to literacy. The Secretary of State, to whom the plans must be submitted for approval, should he especially concerned to see the cogency and clarity of the literacy element of them in reaching decisions on whether to approve them. In addition, inspection of LEAs should give high priority to the quality of the LEA's support for the national literacy strategy.
78. The most important task for LEAs will be to appoint and make effective use of the literacy consultants who would be funded through GEST for three years (1998~2001). In 1998-9, their chief responsibility would be to implement the national training programme in their area, focusing especially on those schools which. because of their small size or for other reasons, are likely to need most assistance. In the following two years, their efforts would be concentrated on supporting continued improvement in literacy in the most disadvantaged schools.
79. A wide range of LEA-based factors will have a crucial impact on the success of the strategy including, among others:

i) the quality of the LEA's preparation for the National Year of Reading and especially its capacity to motivate and involve communities, teachers and parents in the event;

ii) the quality of the LEA's services and its capacity to work in partnership with schools, colleges, TECs and businesses;

iii) the LEA's provision of nursery education;

iv) the LEA's LMS formula, the age weightings in the formula and the extent to which the LEA is able to provide a steady resource framework within which primary schools can operate confidently;

v) the quality of comparative performance data provided by the LEA.


80. After the pressures of the last decade, there is a risk that any major national initiative such as the one we are proposing will be received with scepticism by primary teachers. The benefits to them of playing an active part in implementing the planned strategy need to be made explicit. The first point to make is that our plans are designed to give all teachers access to the best practice that only a minority have had the opportunity to learn from so far. The message we have heard loudly and clearly from primary teachers is that they are desperately keen to teach reading as well as possible and would welcome a programme which enabled them to do so. In addition, we are strongly of the view that the sense of being part of a strategy involving all the education service, and indeed the whole society, could be inspiring and motivational to primary teachers. Above all, if the strategy is ultimately successful and major progress in literacy across the country is demonstrable, primary teachers will surely then get the recognition and status in society that they deserve.
81. We believe that if a school is managing and teaching literacy well, this fact should be recognised. We would hope that, as our training and development programme is implemented, many more schools will be carrying out this central task well and will therefore have earned the recognition, which surely would provide an additional incentive for schools. We also hope that individual teachers will be able to gain accreditation towards Diploma or MA qualifications for completing the training programme and relating it to their day-to-day practice.
82. The Basic Skills Agency (BSA) has recently developed a Basic Skills Quality Mark for primary schools. It has been developed in consultation with other government agencies, LEAs and representatives of teachers. In its present form, it recognises "the ability to read, write and speak in English and use Mathematics at a level necessary to function and progress at work and in society in general". We shall ask them to consider the possibility of separate recognition of literacy and numeracy.
83.Certainly, we fully endorse the ten criteria which the BSA have established for schools which want to gain the quality mark and which are consistent with the strategy we are developing (see box).
  1. A whole school action plan to improve performance in basic skills.
  2. An assessment of pupil performance in basic skills in the school.
  3. A target for the continuous improvement of the school's performance in basic skills.
  4. A basic skills improvement plan for pupils under-attaining in the school.
  5. Regular review of the progress made by each pupil under-attaining in basic skills.
  6. A commitment to improving the skills of staff in the school to teach and extend basic skills.
  7. The use of appropriate teaching styles and approaches to improve basic skills.
  8. The use of appropriate teaching and learning materials to improve basic skills.
  9. The involvement of parents in developing their children's basic skills.
  10. An effective method for monitoring the action plan and assessing improvement in performance in basic skills.
84.At the moment, the BSA intends to leave assessment of whether a school meets these criteria entirely to the discretion of LEAS. While we do believe that there should be a degree of local discretion and that LEAs should implement the scheme, we urge the BSA to ensure that clear national standards - based on the inspection framework - are built into the Quality Mark to ensure it maintains its credibility. We believe that a validated self-review approach, based on national standards, is likely to be the most effective means of deciding whether a school merits the award. The proposed training programme and the associated training of primary headteachers and literacy co-ordinators should be explicitly linked to the Quality Mark idea.


85. We are strongly of the view that primary schools will only be able to give steady priority to literacy over a number of years, if the literacy strategy is placed at the heart of education policy as a whole and becomes consistent with it. This section of the report sets out our thinking on the implications of the literacy strategy for other important areas of policy.

i) National Curriculum

86.It is a generally held view among primary teachers that the National Curriculum, even following Sir Ron Dearing's review in 1993, is both too broad and too prescriptive, especially in Key Stage 2. There is some evidence that this "clutter" reduces both the time available for the basics and the priority which teachers feel able to devote to them. We share this criticism of the National Curriculum.
87.In the full-scale review of the National Curriculum which will begin in 1998 to enable changes to be in place by the year 2000, the highest possible priority should he given to ensuring that high standards of literacy and numeracy - which compare well with those in other advanced societies - become an entitlement for all pupils. We recommend that the National Curriculum for primary schools should clearly prioritise the basics - and especially literacy - and that, to make this possible, it should become less prescriptive in the other subjects, giving schools and teachers greater discretion. Nationally laid-down minimum times per week on literacy for each key stage should be written into the National Curriculum.
88. These recommendations, however, could only be implemented in the year 2000 since any sudden or piecemeal revision of the National Curriculum before the end of the promised five-year moratorium would do more harm than good.
89. Primary schools should not have to wait that long for a clear signal on a government's central priority. We recommend, therefore, that as soon as possible, the chairman of SCAA/QNCA and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools should write jointly to all primary schools urging them to give priority to literacy and numeracy and to use their professional judgement about the implications of doing so for the rest of the National Curriculum. Inspection teams would be required to take this letter into account in reaching their judgements.
90. The combination along these lines of an immediate, clear statement of national priorities under a new government and the endorsement of professional judgement could be a powerful motivational force among teachers.

ii) National Assessment

91.We have already commented on national assessment in the section on our target. From our point of view, it is essential that the national tests at the end of KS2:

i) test reading effectively;

ii) provide detailed information on reading performance;

iii) ensure public credibility;

iv) are consistent over time.

92. The achievement of these objectives demands that the SCAA/QNCA subjects its own test development and marking procedures to external scrutiny and evaluation. If the test system is refined over time - and clearly ten years is a long time - we would urge that the core measure on which we are basing our target is nevertheless sustained.
93. The achievement of our objectives would also be served by the introduction of "baseline" assessment for five year olds entering school and by the continuing refinement of KS1 tests in English. These would enable schools to set individual targets for progress and enable early intervention where problems are identified. This is particularly important in relation to children who have or might develop learning difficulties. They would also provide primary schools with comparative, value-added and improvement information on which to base targets and other management decisions.
94. SCAA/QNCA has begun to develop software packages for schools which enable much more sophisticated analyses of pupil performance in National Curriculum tests than has been possible in the past. For example, they make it possible for schools to look at performance in comparison to other schools and by gender or race and to analyse performance in different questions on the test. We believe that the provision of tools such as these, which enable schools to analyse their provenance, is crucial to the achievement of our target. The training in the management of literacy suggested above should include training in the use of these kinds of data.

iii) Inspection and School Self-Evaluation

95.The combination of the OFSTED inspection cycle and the emphasis in the DfEE's School Effectiveness Division on the five stage cycle of school improvement is already helping to generate both a climate of self-review in schools and a healthy focus on outcomes.
96. The revised OFSTED inspection framework, implemented as recently as 1st April 1996, already gives a strong emphasis to the core subjects of the National Curriculum, including English. We would recommend that in the next revision of the inspection framework it should be modified to ensure that inspectors seek evidence of a whole school strategy for the improvement of literacy standards, including the use of training and promotion of literacy across the curriculum in both primary and secondary schools. In the meantime, clear guidance should be prepared for inspectors on these issues.
97. We believe that the inspection framework and the Basic Skins Agency Quality Mark referred to above should he brought into alignment and, indeed, that successful inspection should become a route to the achievement of the Quality Mark.
98. We are also keen to ensure that all those who inspect primary schools are well informed about the teaching and management of literacy. We recommend that all those involved in the inspection of primary schools should, at their own expense, participate in training on literacy in primary schools to ensure that they understand the details of the proposed strategy.
99. The inspection system will play an essential part in ensuring that the professional development strategy is in practice followed up in every school. We urge that, in addition to the normal cycle of inspections, experienced OFSTED inspectors should examine the impact of the literacy strategy in a substantial representative sample of primary schools (i.e. at least 10 per cent) in the year 1999-2000. The notice period for such inspections should be no more than a month.

iv) The National Professional Qualifications Framework

100. The Teacher Training Agency is currently developing and piloting the NPQH. Labour intends to make the achievement of this qualification a requirement for all those who want to become headteachers. We recommend that an explicit requirement of that qualification should be assessment and, where necessary, training for all aspiring headteachers, secondary as well as primary, in the management of literacy. As the TTA's National Professional Qualification for Subject Leaders is developed and implemented, we would urge that priority is given to Literacy Co-ordinators in primary schools.

v) Reading Recovery

101. Reading Recovery works by enabling teachers to diagnose reading difficulties among six year olds and providing them with targeted one-to-one support to enable them to catch up with their peers before they fall irrevocably behind. We wish to emphasise the importance of such early intervention to our strategy. The evidence suggests that any remedial approach introduced once a child is eight or more is likely to be both much less effective and much more costly.
102. The Reading Recovery scheme - based on the work of the New Zealander Marie Clay was introduced in this country with cross-party support in 1992. In 1995, the government withdrew funding for the scheme. Yet the evaluations of its impact - the most recent one published in December 1996 - suggest that for those pupils who have fallen behind their peers at age six, it has been successful in bringing about pupil progress. For example, four out of every five pupils involved in 1996 successfully caught up with their peers. This British finding is consistent with international evidence on its impact. The programme has also improved diagnostic and teaching skills among the staff involved. Twenty-eight LEAs working with the Reading Recovery National Network based at the Institute of Education, London have continued to support Reading Recovery even after the withdrawal of central government funding because of this proven beneficial impact.
103. The strategic problem between 1992 and 1995 was that Reading Recovery was introduced independently of any coherent attempt to ensure that the vast majority of children learnt to read quickly and effectively through being taught in the best possible way. In New Zealand, the assumption is that 80 per cent of pupils will learn to read first time through the normal teaching programme - the so-called first wave - with Reading Recovery picking up over three-quarters of the remainder in what they describe as the second wave.
104. As our strategy is implemented, we see Reading Recovery playing the part it was designed to play in New Zealand, namely addressing the specific reading difficulties of those who, in spite of being taught well, fall behind. In its proper strategic place, it could also play a vital part in dealing with pupils with special educational needs. The statements of special educational needs of the vast majority of pupils in late primary and secondary schools relate to literacy and are enormously expensive to manage and implement and. over time, cost much more than Reading Recovery. There is, therefore, a powerful case for investing in Reading Recovery on the grounds that prevention is better than cure. Evidence shows that it is a sound medium to long term investment. We recommend that Reading Recovery is kept under review with the aim of both refining it over time and seeing if its outcomes can he achieved more cost effectively through, for example, more systematic use of the staff and volunteers already working in many primary schools. If this is to be done, it is important that the existing network and infrastructure are maintained. Given the many pressures on education expenditure, however, we recognise that a major development of Reading Recovery may not be achievable until economic growth brings additional funds into education. In the meantime, we urge that any resources for Reading Recovery are targeted at areas of disadvantage where the need is greatest and that those LEAs which have chosen to sustain it are encouraged to do so.


105. In New Zealand, as we have seen, the 80 per cent who learn to read First time are referred to as the first wave and those who catch up through Reading Recovery as the second wave. This still leaves in the region of 5 per cent of pupils who are known as the third wave. It would be disastrous to write off this group by excluding them from the target. Many of them, although they will have identified special educational needs, can nevertheless learn to read well. Each of them needs an individual learning plan and we recommend that, under the present Code of Practice arrangements (and any refinement of them in the future), plans are made to meet their literacy needs. The introduction of universal baseline assessment should help. Assuming that the success levels expected of the first two waves are achieved or exceeded, there is no reason why such individual plans should be prohibitively expensive, especially if interventions are structured and early. The problem at present is that in many cases, intervention is too late and, in addition, many pupils who ought to learn through either the first or second wave are becoming unnecessarily caught up in the special educational needs procedures.
106. We acknowledge the crucial role in this context of each school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). SENC0s diagnose children's needs and devise (and advise on the implementation of) specific learning programmes for children and liaise with the multi-disciplinary agencies to support them. The TTA's plan for a National Professional Qualification for SENC0s is welcome. In addition, we believe the place of the SENCO in the school needs to be an aspect of the professional development strategy outlined above.


107. Parents have a vital role in supporting and encouraging children's learning, perhaps most of all in helping their child learn to read. The National Year of Reading will help to draw attention to this role. If our literacy strategy is to succeed, then a key element of it must focus on enlisting parents in it and enabling them to play their full part in it. Almost all parents are desperately keen to see their child learn to read. We expect that they will be enthusiastically supportive of our strategy and keen to play their part in realising it. We make a number of proposals to enhance the role of parents in helping their child learn to read from birth through to his/her completion of primary education.
108. The learning a child does between birth and age three or four is known to be extremely important, particularly in the acquisition of language. Children who are read to regularly, hear stories, sing or learn nursery rhymes, look at books, visit libraries and so on, are much more likely to learn to read easily. We have been impressed by the work done by Birmingham education authority to encourage parents to provide these opportunities for young children.
109. We believe there are a number of strategies an incoming government could follow which would emulate at national level what Birmingham and some others have done locally. These should include:

i) finding cost effective means of getting advice to parents via the health visitor network and doctors' surgeries;

ii) evaluating the success of the Basic Skills Agency's proposed parent helpline;

iii) urging businesses that are in regular contact with parents - banks, stores and supermarkets, for example - to participate in promoting the importance of reading. At busy times supermarkets, for example, could employ staff to provide entertaining reading-related activities for small children while their parents shopped in peace;

iv) a high-profile media campaign encouraging parents to support their children's reading. Discussions with major broadcasting organisations and with those companies who use television and radio advertising extensively should begin as soon as possible.

110. We believe the National Year of Reading, which we describe below, will provide a good stimulus to such activity but recognise that the kind of campaign we have in mind needs to be sustained over a longer period. It would provide a positive and constructive climate in which to press ahead with the literacy strategy.
111. On its own, however, a campaign of this kind would not be enough. There needs, in addition, to be a systematic approach to linking home and school. Labour is committed already to introducing home-school agreements. At primary level, we believe these should emphasise not only attendance, punctuality, good behaviour and the school's responsibilities but also the potential of work at home to support a child in learning to read. They should be discussed with parents before their child or children start at a school and then build on it at parents' meetings, which ideally should take place at least twice a year. The ultimate goal should be the establishment of clear targets for the improvement of each child's progress over a six month period, with both parents and school being clear about what their respective responsibilities are in ensuring the target is met. We believe that support for and the improvement of reading among all children, and especially those with special educational needs, could be greatly assisted by this approach.
112. In relation to reading, very often the best homework is simply for the parent or someone else from home to spend 20 minutes or so each day either reading to their child or hearing him or her read. This is important not only while the child is learning to read but also once the child can read so that his/her fluency is improved and range extended. This would not generate marking for teachers, nor place an intolerable burden on the vast majority of parents. National guidance from the DfEE on home-school agreements and homework should encourage it for children in both KS1 and KS2. The 20 minutes reading should be seen as part of the half an hour's homework a day which Labour intends to recommend in guidance on homework.
113. We have seen the documentation produced by Greenwood Junior School and its partners in an inner city school improvement project in Nottingham. The director of the project, John Botham, is a member of the Task Force. The model of "home study" developed there appears to have been highly successful, not least because in addition to being educationally sound, it is eminently practical. The homework tasks have been designed to link with the National Curriculum. They are also constructed so that they do not generate extensive marking which could overwhelm already heavily burdened teachers. The school realistically recommends four home study sessions a week. We recommend that the Literacy Strategy Group should also examine the production of home study guidance, drawing on the experience of Greenwood and other forward-thinking primary schools. The distance learning training materials should recommend home study as part of the approach to improving reading standards.


114. The involvement of parents in helping children learn to read is predicated, of course, on the notion that parents themselves are literate. Given levels of adult illiteracy, this is not always the case. There is therefore a need to link efforts to improve literacy among adults to our proposals for improving reading standards in primary schools. Much of this lies outside our terms of reference. We do wish, however, to draw attention to the success of the Basic Skills Agency Demonstration Projects in Family Literacy. There were four Programmes based in areas of multiple deprivation in Cardiff, Liverpool, Norfolk and North Tyneside. Each provided courses which lasted 96 hours over 12 weeks, and involved children aged 3 to 6 and their parents (96 per cent of participating parents were mothers). On entry, the parents had low levels of literacy, and many of their children were severely disadvantaged for learning by low development in vocabulary and in emergent reading and writing. Parents worked on their own literacy, built on home literacy activities and beamed how to extend the help they gave their children. Meanwhile, the children were given intensive early years teaching, with a strong emphasis on writing and talking as well as reading. There were also joint sessions in which the parents worked with their children and used the strategies they had been taught for helping them.
115. The evaluation of these by the NFER published in 1996 found that the children made greater-than-expected average improvements m vocabulary and reading during the courses and in the 12 weeks after them, while in writing, they also made substantial gains. For example, the proportion whose lack of vocabulary would leave them severely disadvantaged for learning fell from 17 per cent to six per cent, while the standardised mean score for reading rose from 84 to 92, where 100 is the average.
116. In addition, both the literacy levels and the ability of parents to help their children to read was boosted. There were substantial increases in literacy-related home activities, and these became fully embedded in family practice. Parents also reported substantial increases in their ability to help their children with language and literacy and in their confidence in doing so.
117. All the evidence therefore suggests that family literacy is both beneficial and cost-effective.
118. We strongly welcome the government's decision to fund a number of family literacy projects recommend that an incoming government sees family literacy as a central part of its approach to reading standards in disadvantaged areas and provides continuing support for these projects, with a view to expanding them as and when resources become available.


119. In the opening sections of this report, we point out that in addition to raising overall performance and improving consistency, our strategy would have explicitly to address disadvantage. This section draws together the strands of our strategy which are designed to do that. We believe that early action to implement Labour's existing commitments to providing nursery education for all four year olds and reducing class sizes for five, six and seven year olds would be most beneficial in areas of disadvantage, where research shows they are likely to have the most effect and where there is most distance for schools to go if our target is to be met. We also recommend the continuation and, if funds allow, extension of the NLP as a significant contribution to raising literacy standards in LEAs where it has been established.
120. In addition, we propose that through a continuation of GEST funding at the level necessary for the professional development programme in 1998-9 for at least two further years, resources would be targeted at schools with disadvantaged intakes to ensure that, in addition to teaching well, they could provide extra support through proven school improvement strategies. The details of how this should be done need further consideration but we believe that the American "Success for All" programme offers a powerful model. Adapted to English circumstances, it would imply that:

i) schools would have to meet nationally agreed criteria on social disadvantage;

ii) schools would have to express a willingness to adopt in full proven school improvement strategies. In addition to governors' approval, 80 per cent of the professional staff of the school would have to vote for participation;

iii) any additional resources would be carefully targetted.

121. The international research evidence suggests that a programme at this level could ensure substantial progress among participating schools. If it were applied solely to the most disadvantaged primary schools, then it could be funded comfortably from within the planned GEST programme.
122. We welcome the idea of providing, with Lottery funding, study support centres at which young people in disadvantaged areas can do homework and other assistance with their learning. We believe that the needs of primary pupils should be borne in mind as these plans are constructed. Indeed, in many communities, primary schools themselves are likely to be ideal locations for such centres. Adult volunteers, university students and indeed many secondary school pupils could provide reading support to primary pupils in these and other after-school settings at very little cost. There is also a growing body of experience in the use of volunteers and business mentors, on which we could usefully build.
123. As we have already suggested, the family literacy programme and a revived Reading Recovery scheme should focus on areas of disadvantage too.
124. We believe hard-pressed teachers in schools in such areas would be greatly assisted in achieving their goals, if they had more systematic support from trained classroom assistants. We are encouraged by the success of the government's programme for training specialist teaching assistants (STAs) and by the teacher unions' recognition of their potential benefits. We believe that the training of STAs should continue and that primary schools in disadvantaged areas should be encouraged to employ them, particularly to support the teaching of reading.
125. We are aware that, compared to many other developed countries, the amount we spend on books for each primary school child is low. We would like to encourage projects such as Bookstart in Birmingham, which has used health visitors to raise awareness of books and reading among the parents of very young children. Training of headteachers and literacy co-ordinators should include approaches to book purchasing, as we have suggested.
126. Finally, we would like to see a series of targeted experiments in the use of IT to support literacy sited in areas of disadvantage. These should build on the evaluations the NCET has already undertaken of Integrated Learning Systems, the impressive work of the Technology Colleges Trust and the early success of the Docklands Literacy Project. Schemes such as these should be funded through public-private partnership. We believe that in areas where there are secondary schools with Technology College status, they might be expected to enhance the use of IT to support literacy in their feeder primary schools. In the long run and especially in the second half of our ten year strategy, we believe IT may enable us to go beyond the levels of achievement envisaged currently. The Literacy Strategy Group should monitor developments in the use of IT in the teaching of literacy closely.
127. We recognise that there is an overall resource constraint and that there is no prospect of rapid growth in education expenditure. However, Labour is committed to increasing the proportion of GNP which will be devoted to education over the lifetime of a government. If, through reducing welfare expenditure, additional resources become available without any need for taxation increases, we urge that a highly cost-effective use of them would be to enable primary schools in disadvantaged areas to appoint additional teaching assistants and buy more books. We recommend that, in any review of education funding and LMS formulae, this suggestion is taken into account. This would contribute to an overall strategic need, identified by (among many others) the House of Commons Select Committee on Education, to bring per pupil levels of expenditure in primary schools up towards those in secondary schools.
128. Some primary schools have been able to improve greatly their adult/pupil ratios, not just by employing teaching assistants but also by becoming recognised training bases for NVQ Level 3 qualifications in, for example, child care. We believe consideration should be given to building on this model through piloting it in a number of areas of disadvantage. Groups of people aged 16 and over from local areas who have very basic qualifications (i.e. 2/3 GCSEs) could be involved. They would work in groups based in primary schools and be trained at their school base. They would train to NVQ Level 3 in a new qualification comparable to the existing childcare qualification but focusing on the skills of teaching reading/literacy. Those who did not already possess it would be required to retake GCSE English through evening classes. Schools that chose to participate would appoint a senior member of staff to co-ordinate the scheme. This person would oversee the work of the trainees when they were in school and arrange for their assessment. Small schools could participate in consortia. At the end of a training period, this qualification could be used in conjunction with the GCSE's, and would provide a strong platform for seeking employment in a range of possible lines of work.
129. A scheme of this kind would offer a real chance to local young people and contribute to raising reading standards. We urge government and the NCVQ/QNCA to begin work on developing it as soon as possible.


130. The issues covered in this report clearly have implications for the teaching of bilingual pupils. Bilingual pupils are not, of course, an homogeneous group. In some cases, they are from families long established in this country who are very familiar with English and with English schools; other may be the first generation to attend school and perhaps the first to develop literacy in those languages. For bilingual learners, fluent literacy in English takes time to learn, but we believe that it is right to expect that most pupils with full experience of primary education in English can reach the Level 4 target in reading and writing by age eleven. Children who have arrived recently from abroad may need longer to reach the target with a special programme planned by the school.
131. In either case, we believe that our overall proposals will facilitate their acquisition of literacy as rapidly as possible. The emphasis in the proposals on maintaining the direct teaching of skills and strategies through to the end of KS2, on individual target-setting and on home-school collaboration are likely to be of particular benefit.
132. Successful work over a number of years points to the characteristics of effective provision for bilingual learners. In the best practice issues about the teaching of bilingual pupils are thoroughly explored and integrated within general school policies; the contribution of support staff, whether teachers or teaching assistants, is well managed; a careful analysis is made of the language demands of the curriculum and of how bilingual learners at different stages can be helped to meet them; there is particular attention to the links between the learning of the spoken and the written language; close help is given on reading for meaning and on models of written language for more advanced learners; additional resources such as visual aids, talking books and dual language materials are intelligently used.
133. We intend that the distance beaming materials for school staff and governors which we are proposing will reflect this successful experience. We also expect that the training of teaching assistants, referred to elsewhere in this report, will encompass those who work particularly with bilingual learners.
134. We recognise that, in the next phase of our work, we need to examine this issue in more depth and would welcome views from those with an interest and expertise in this field.


135. The bulk of our report has necessarily concentrated on reforming the education service so that primary schools and teachers are better equipped to teach reading effectively and parents are enabled to play their part in supporting a child's reading.
136. However, as we made plain earlier, we are convinced that for our strategy to succeed, it is necessary for the whole society to assist teachers and parents in their respective tasks. If there were a national sense of everyone, both inside and outside education, working together to raise literacy standards it would help to transform expectations and to ensure that primary teachers felt that they were part of a wider movement with broad support. While we believe that some of the criticism of primary schools' performance over the last generation has been legitimate - as the picture we have painted of the current state of affairs makes clear - we also recognise that very often primary teachers currently feel they are swimming against a cultural tide which threatens to overwhelm them and their best efforts. We recognise that the teaching profession will be in no position to take on the challenge we have set if it is totally demoralised and that our strategy must provide teachers with the encouragement and support to take on the challenge ahead.
137. For these reasons, in addition to changes we have recommended in the education service, in this section we make proposals designed to turn the cultural tide so that teachers and schools feel they are swimming with it. The National Year of Reading originally proposed by David Blunkett in his speech to the 1996 NAHT conference - is central to our plans for achieving this objective.
138. The school year 1998-9 - the last full school year of the millennium - will be designated "The National Year of Reading". Along with the changes we plan in the education service in that year, we hope there will be a huge media campaign and a series of events aimed at urging:

i) parents and all other adults to support schools in their efforts to raise reading standards

  • for example, every company or organisation could urge those of its employees who are also parents to read with their children. Some n-light give employees half a day off for this purpose during the year;
  • there could be a nationwide appeal for volunteers to help with reading. In Tower Hamlets, over 200 business people read with primary school children on a regular basis and companies have offered a further 400 such mentors since a Newsroom South East item in January 1997.

ii) adults with poor literacy skills to try to improve them *

  • the Basic Skills Agency could link up with television - as it has done in the past - to promote adult and family literacy;

iii) the media to recognise its influence and to seek imaginative means of encouraging children and young people to read and parents and other adults to support them in doing so *

  • television schedules could include both short "advertising" slots and longer programmes urging parents to support children's reading and showing them how;

iv) publishers and booksellers to contribute to the campaign to raise reading standards, not least because it will clearly be in their commercial interests to do so *

  • publishers and booksellers could organise events in schools and libraries, sponsor television productions and produce advice for schools on book-buying;

v) business to play a part through, for example, partnerships with the public sector *

  • businesses could vary advertisements from time to time to promote reading (e.g. BT: "It's good to read"); *
  • existing business mentoring schemes could be extended; *
  • supermarkets could promote reading among customers and provide, as we have suggested above, literacy events on site for children while parents shop in peace.

vi) the experience of the public library services to be drawn upon in promoting reading in communities.

139. The National Year of Reading will only work if it achieves a very high profile indeed. Its goal must be to engage the interest of every single citizen and the activity of many millions. The initial soundings we have taken indicate great enthusiasm for the National Year of Reading among publishers, booksellers and librarians. WH Smith, Britain's leading bookseller, has expressed keen interest as have several publishers including Macmillan and Random House, as well as the public relations agency Colman Getty, which publicises the Booker Prize, among other things. The Library Association has also expressed strong support. The climate of opinion appears to be entirely right for such an initiative. The entire event could be an innovative and exciting example of public-private partnership related to a national priority.
140. If it is to take place in 1998-9, then preparations need to begin as soon as possible. We recommend the establishment of a planning group - with high level representatives of all the key interests - as soon as possible after the election to start this process, with either the National Literacy Trust or the Basic Skills Agency or both jointly acting as host to it.
141. We hope that the gains made in the year will be sustained and that the National Literacy Trust, the Basic Skills Agency and other organisations will prepare in advance to build upon it well into the next millennium.


142. We believe the strategy we have outlined in this report so far 's comprehensive, ambitious and likely to make a substantial impact on literacy standards. However, we recognise that even if the strategy proved entirely successful in meeting our long-term target, there would be children in the short term who reach the end of primary education without the literacy skills necessary to take advantage of secondary education.
143. For this reason, David Blunkett announced at the Labour Party Conference that Labour would pilot Literacy Summer Schools for Year 6 children whose reading level was below Level 4. Their purpose would be to give a boost to these children's reading performance before they started secondary schools. He announced that resources would be made available within the GEST budget for this purpose.
144. We intend to give further consideration to the best way to organise and provide these summer schools in time for our final report. We are, at this stage, open about the best means of organising them and flexible about approaches and the appropriate ages to involve pupils. At this stage, we believe that in order to gain experience and evidence of the likely impact of Literacy Summer Schools, an incoming Labour government should:
  1. evaluate a number of different models that are already planned for the summer of 1997 by LEAs and other organisations;
  2. on the basis of the evaluation, develop a number of models of summer school support which have been demonstrated to work;
  3. under the GEST scheme, invite proposals to run schemes in 1998 according to the established criteria;
  4. on the basis of the 1998 schemes, consider the development of a national scheme which could include a variety of approaches to be launched and delivered in 1999 during the National Year of Reading.


145. Our chief focus, given the nature of our target, has been on primary education. However, we are aware that literacy is as much an issue for secondary schools as it is for primary schools.
146. In the short term, secondary schools are faced with substantial numbers of young people who join them with inadequate literacy skills and are therefore at risk of being disaffected and/or disruptive. In the longer run, if our strategy is successful, there will be far fewer such pupils. Even so, it will be important for secondary schools to build on the efforts of primary schools and work consistently across the curriculum to enhance literacy levels so that all pupils leave school articulate, confident and able to express themselves orally and in writing. We have been impressed by the Western Australia Stepping Out materials which are aimed at secondary schools and build on the First Steps approach to literacy in primary schools.
147. We have not, in the time available to us, been able to do justice to the issue of literacy m secondary schools, although we recognise that it is of major importance. The Task Force would need additional members and a further consultation exercise to develop a way forward.
148. We recommend that, once an incoming government has embarked on its literacy strategy for primary education, it should seek to develop a programme showing how secondary education might build upon it and making proposals for how in the meantime they might address the substantial literacy challenge they face. We hope, with the support of some additional secondary colleagues, to begin work on this task in the next phase of our work.


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149. In the foregoing section, we have set out a detailed and comprehensive strategy for the years 1997-2001. Broadly, the plans we have described would form the work of the full term of a government. We are confident that, if this first phase of the strategy is adhered to, it would dramatically raise literacy standards and our interim targets would be met or exceeded.
150. However, we also recognise that, if we are to reach our ultimate target and sustain it, and if we are to ensure that secondary and tertiary education build systematically on the foundations laid by primary schools, then the drive for improved literacy standards will need a second phase.
151. Clearly, it would be foolish to be too prescriptive at this stage about a policy strategy to be pursued in the early years of the next century. It is essential that, in thinking that far ahead, we are flexible and in a position to build on the thorough evaluation of the first phase of the strategy which we have already recommended.
152. We are, however, in a position to set out the process through which phase two of the strategy win emerge. The Literacy Strategy Group, which we have recommended should oversee the first phase of the strategy, should, from the start, have in mind the need to prepare for the longer term future.
153. This perspective should inform its monitoring and evaluation of the first phase of the strategy. It should seek constantly to gather data, information and ideas for the second phase. The evidence gathered by OFSTED and major research projects will be of particular importance, as will evaluations of the impact over time of the NLP. In order to keep close to teacher and parental opinion on the effect of the strategy, the Group ought also to use focus groups and other polling techniques periodically. Above all, the Group needs to develop and sustain good links with similar strategic approaches to literacy in other countries. We believe that, increasingly, such international crossfertilisation can make a vital contribution both in providing ideas and approaches and in ensuring that standards here match the best in the world.


154. We anticipate that the second phase of the strategy will involve some or all of the following features:

i) considering the evidence of the impact of IT on approaches to teaching literacy and, in the light of the evidence, deciding how to make effective use of it;

ii) improving the diagnostic and pedagogical skills of teachers in relation to pupils with various specific reading difficulties;

iii) building on the experience of the first phase of the strategy to enhance home-school links;

iv) building on the experience of the first phase of the strategy to make greater and more effective use of trained classroom assistants;

v) continuing to improve links between primary and secondary schools on literacy;

vi) enhancing the capability of all primary teachers to assess children, to analyse data from assessment and apply it in the teaching process; in particular we anticipate considerable progress in the capability of IT to enhance the capacity of schools in assessment;

vii) above all, building on the growing capacity of primary schools to improve themselves, a capacity which should be substantially enhanced by a sustained drive for school improvement and much greater consistency across the education service.

155From these strands, we anticipate the Literacy Strategy Group will be in a position by around 1998-9 to set out in some detail the strategy to be pursued in the years 2001-2006. We expect this will be consistent with and supportive of the strategy for improving literacy at secondary level, which we would expect to be in place by then.


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156.This interim report has set out in some detail our thinking on the strategy necessary to transform literacy standards. We hope, on the basis of responses to this report, to refuse and develop our thinking so that when we publish our final report in May, it can command widespread support. Any written responses should be clearly marked "LTF' and sent by mid-April at the latest to:

Professor Michael Barber
Institute of Education
20 Bedford Way
London WC1H OAL