Reading scheme axed in cuts to school spending


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The Independent Online

A pioneering project which has switched thousands of struggling pupils on to reading is being axed in primary schools.

Research shows that the Reading Recovery Project, which involves daily one-to-one half-hour reading sessions with pupils, has had a major impact in boosting reading standards.

After 12 to 20 weeks in the scheme, five- to six-year-olds saw their reading ability increase by up to 20 months – an improvement which was sustained when they were tested a year later.

But schools are being forced to axe the project – or at least reduce the number of pupils to whom they offer it – because of a squeeze on school budgets, according to the National Association of Head Teachers.

Russell Hobby, the association's general secretary, described it as the single most important scheme in helping primary schools to tackle the reading problems of slow learners.

Research by London University's Institute of Education shows that at the end of the 20-week period, pupils on the Reading Recovery Project had improved their literacy by 20 months – compared with six months for pupils on other programmes. Tested a year later, it was shown that the children involved were keeping up in class.

Labour invested £144m in the scheme over a three-year period to train 18,000 teachers to deliver it. But Mr Hobby said that many schools were having to abandon it or reduce its impact because of the budget squeeze.

The Coalition Government has targeted resources on disadvantaged pupils, giving schools £430 extra for every pupil they educate entitled to free school meals. However, Mr Hobby said the money had not been enough to compensate for the loss of central funding for the scheme.

Heads say that the Government's plans to test five- and six-year-olds on their reading will be costly to run and that when the scheme was trialled in 300 schools, most teachers said they did not help to identify problem pupils.

The axing of the Reading Recovery Project in primary schools is only one of the effects being felt by the impact of the squeeze on spending.

Mr Hobby told of one school which was now accepting hand-me-down laptops and IT technology from parents and local firms, because its budget to supply technology had been reduced to just £4,000 a year. Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, singled out the removal of support for one-to-one teaching as having an obvious impact on learning.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said it was targeting pupils from deprived backgrounds through its £430 "pupil premium".

"We've secured the best possible settlement for schools considering the harsh economic situation and we've given schools complete freedom over every aspect of their budgets. We trust heads to know the needs of their own schools and where the money needs to be spent to make the biggest impact."