With 20% of children leaving school with lower than expected literacy levels, additional support is needed. Reading Recovery, a reading intervention programme developed in 1993, offers exactly that, say Rebecca Jenkin and Isobel Goss

In recent years it has been reported that 20% of children are leaving school unable to read to the required standard for their age and that an estimated 5.2 million adults have worse literacy than that expected of 11-year-olds. As teachers, the literacy levels of our pupils are obviously a concern and we therefore look to new intervention methods to help raise their reading, writing and spelling skills. There are ever-increasing demands on primary schools to identify children with lower than expected literacy levels and to provide additional support. Since 1993, a school-based intervention programme designed to reduce literacy problems within the education system called Reading Recovery has been set up in the UK. Reading Recovery arose from the work of Marie Clay in New Zealand and is a well established intervention scheme for children with reading difficulties in their early school career. It is aimed at children who, after one year of formal literacy teaching are still struggling to read. On average these children can read no more than a simple text, with one line of five or six words to the page and a repeated, predictable pattern. The Reading Recovery National Framework suggests that one third of children entering this programme are unable to read even at this level, and can spell fewer than five words correctly, including their own name.

How is the programme organised?

First the programme provides children with particular reading and writing difficulties with a period of intensive individual help in the form of daily half-hour sessions with a specially trained Reading Recovery teacher for 20 weeks. The lesson itself consists of looking at two or more books, letter identification, making and breaking words and writing a story. Reading Recovery has proved to be successful. The Institute of Education carried out a study of Reading Recovery in six LEAs, which showed that children on the programme made significantly greater progress than children who received an alternative treatment such as phonological intervention (Evaluation of Reading Recovery in London Schools: Every Child a Reader 2005–2006). The study looked at 292 of the lowest achieving six-year-olds in 42 London schools over one school year. Researchers compared the reading progress of 87 children on the Reading Recovery programme with other children. After 12 weeks, the Reading Recovery group had caught up with their classmates and had increased their reading ages by 20 months. Research shows a near 60% success rate in the National Curriculum key tests taken by participants at the age of seven. Data collected on 1,400 children who have taken part in Reading Recovery show that 57% achieved the national standard in reading and 58% in writing in 1999. Further evidence that the programme has been a success has been gathered from SATs results collected at KS2 from over 500 children who had received Reading Recovery in 1997 or 1998. In reading, about 34% reached SATs level 3, 50% reached level 4 and a further 11% reached level 5. In writing, 40% reached level 3, with a further 20% reaching level 4 or above. Does this demonstrate that the effects of Reading Recovery can assist in carrying children forward well into the next phases of their education? It could be argued that if 60% of the children who had been lowest in Year 1 or 2 can achieve level 4 in reading, and 60% can reach level 3 or above in writing at the end of their primary career then there is hope that they will have a good chance of accessing the Key Stage 3 curriculum. Moreover, the programme has claimed to be fundamental in rescuing children from an illiterate future. A KPMG study said the children who left school with poor reading skills could go on to cost the State between £1.7bn and £2bn a year. The research claims that there are costly problems linked to poor literacy such as poor employment prospects. The report claimed that the intervention would lift 79% of children who receive it out of literacy failure. However, Reading Recovery is a costly scheme and LEAs have to consider whether the expense can be justified as it only helps a relatively small number of children. The initial costs amount to £1,000 per pupil, not including the cost of training a teacher. With the competing demands of school budgets and other government initiatives to fund, can schools afford to implement Reading Recovery?  The Literacy Trust reports that the number of children receiving the intervention has fallen by 40% since 1998. A survey of one authority which had 96 Reading Recovery teachers in 59 schools a decade ago, found that only 16 schools were still running the programme.

So what of its future success in targeting underachievers?
The Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading (Rose, 2006) discusses effective approaches to support children at risk of underachievement and endorses the National Strategy’s ‘model of three waves’ of teaching and intervention.

Wave 1 – the effective inclusion of all children in daily quality first teaching.

Wave 2

– additional interventions to enable children to work at age related expectations or above.
Wave 3 – additional highly personalised interventions, for example, specifically targeted approaches for children identified as requiring SEN support. There has been some move recently towards intervention being much more closely linked to day-to-day class teaching. ‘Every Child a Reader’ is the government’s proposed approach to the provision of coordinated, high quality Key Stage 1 teaching. The ‘Every Child a Reader’ programme aims to ensure that every child achieves age-related expectations at the end of Key Stage 1. The principle of the programme is that every child is entitled to top quality, inclusive teaching, with some children requiring additional targeted support tailored to their needs. High quality phonic work at Stage 3 is where Reading Recovery forms the basis of the most intensive intervention.

The future

What is needed to secure literate children is continued action and funding.  Ed Balls, secretary of state for children, schools and families has pledged to invest £144 million over the next three years in rolling out Every Child a Reader and that by 2011, 30,000 six year olds who have difficulty reading will get intensive one-to-one tuition.

In our opinion, whatever intervention method each LEA and each individual school chooses, the most important step in addressing low literacy levels is encouraging parents and carers to spend time reading and practising letter sounds with their children. Schools must work closely with parents, offering support and guidance to help them work with their children.