Parents seen as key to fighting illiteracy

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The Independent Online
The way to end illiteracy among children is to end it among parents, says government-funded research published yesterday.

The study shows that family literacy programmes where parents, grandparents and children work together are extremely successful in improving reading and writing.

Researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research looked at four literacy programmes for parents at the bottom of the educational heap and their children, aged three to six. Most of the children had low scores in language and risked educational failure.

The 361 parents and 392 children attended courses of eight hours a week for 12 weeks. The study found the proportion of children who would have struggled with reading at school fell from two-thirds to just over a third. The proportion of children with the most severe reading difficulties fell from 24 per cent to 9 per cent. There were similar improvements in children's vocabulary.

Parents' average reading score went up by 5 per cent and their writing score by 10 per cent. The study found that all the progress children and parents made was still being maintained nine months later. Many parents went on to further studies and felt more confident about helping their children at home.

Greg Brooks, who led the research team, said of the programmes set up by the Basic Skills Agency: "This is one of the most effective initiatives we have ever encountered."

The pilot projects cost pounds 3m paid by the Welsh Office and the Department for Education and Employment.

Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, would not commit the Government to more funding but she told a London conference: "We have to look at something that is as successful as this very seriously. If this is the way to break the cycle of deprivation and other problems it has to be taken very seriously."

Mrs Shephard responded vigorously to reports that plans to introduce nursery vouchers have run into trouble because not enough private providers are interested in the scheme, which starts in four local authorities in autumn. She said 600 private and voluntary groups had come forward, 387 of them in Norfolk and the rest in the three pilot authorities. Twenty two extra local authority nursery units are being set up in Norfolk.