Extra help to boost struggling 5-year-olds

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The Independent Online

A £23m plan to reduce the number of five-year-olds struggling to keep up in class is to be launched in primary schools this year.

A £23m plan to reduce the number of five-year-olds struggling to keep up in class is to be launched in primary schools this year.

Teachers will use the results of tests taken by children as they start school at the age of four or five to identify those who will need extra help to learn to read, write and do simple arithmetic. They will then be able to have regular lessons in groups of six pupils so they can get the intensive coaching they need to catch up with their classmates.

At present, research shows about 120,000 children a year ­ 20 per cent of the age group ­ need extra help in their first year of compulsory schooling. Ministers want to reduce that number to 30,000 a year with their early-intervention programme.

The scheme is being piloted this year in 38 local education authorities and will be introduced nationally in England and Wales from September. A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "All the evidence shows that if you give them extra as soon as possible after starting schooling it is much easier for them to catch up. We've always recognised that some children will want additional help on starting school if they are to keep up with their peers."

The introduction of baseline tests for children when they start school has made it easier for teachers to identify those in need of help.

The early "catch up" programme is an extension of the Government's literacy and numeracy strategy in primary schools, which has led to the introduction of a compulsory reading hour and daily maths lesson in all schools.

Ministers hope the need for early intervention will be reduced in time with the introduction of more nursery education. All parents who want their children aged three or four to attend nursery school should be able to put them in classes by 2004.

The programme was welcomed by teachers' leaders yesterday. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This is the sort of support and development that should be available not just in the early years of education but throughout the system. It will be welcomed by teachers but my only concern is that ­ with the teacher shortages we have ­ where are the extra teachers going to come from?"

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