Infants school teacher shares secrets of reading triumph

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The Independent Online
A return to traditional teaching methods including reading schemes, grammar exercises and liberal use of the "magic pointy finger" have revolutionised standards at an infants school being used as an exemplar by the Government.

Sue Pearson, head of Lache County Infants School, Chester, was yesterday invited by David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, to share the secrets of her success with colleagues at the National Association of Head Teachers' conference.

Mrs Pearson described how the school, where 70 per cent of children qualify for free school meals, had confronted clear evidence of failure by pupils to meet nationally expected standards in reading by devising a back-to- basics approach.

Two years ago, instead of attempting to hear children read in spare moments, teachers introduced a reading hour fixed at 11am each day, and in place of real story books, used a scheme which gradually introduced vocabulary in a structured manner.

They dispensed with orthodoxy held dear by the "trendier" end of the profession, including the ban on allowing children to "track" with a finger along lines of text. "It's magic, pointy fingers out in our school and off we go," said Mrs Pearson, 45, a teacher for 22 years.

While two-thirds of the class worked on structured exercises in vocabulary and comprehension, the rest read all together under the teacher's supervision.

The new programme has seen seven-year-olds' reading scores soar. In 1995 just half achieved expected standards for their age; last year 85 per cent did so, placing the school well above the national average. Hostility from neighbouring heads had turned to admiration and emulation, Mrs Pearson said.

This was the first example of Mr Blunkett's intention to spread the practice among schools. Mrs Pearson is to be on the new standards task force.

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