Spreading lessons is better for reading Advice

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Government plans to make primary school children learn to read by concentrating on English for an hour a-day may not be the best way to teach reading.

New research by Warwick University shows that three or four 15-minute sessions spread throughout the day can produce a ''staggering'' improvement in children's reading.

Dr Jonathan Solity, a lecturer in educational psychology at the university's Institute of Education, has studied four and five-year-olds in schools in deprived parts of Essex since 1996. In the project, teachers used a number of ''common-sense'' measures like constantly recapping on what was taught and regular testing.

The Early Reading Research is due to be published later this year. The study's results contradict the Department for Education's recommendation last July that schools spend an hour a-day teaching literacy.

Dr Solity said initial results showed that after nine months children in the schools taking part were nine months ahead in their reading compared to those in similar schools.

Children in the schools in the study had an average reading age of five years and nine months, when their actual average age was five years and four months.

This compared to children in the comparison schools who had an average reading age of five years old.

Dr Solity said: ''The results of this research were staggering. I applaud the Government for introducing more rigour into education. However, it could miss an opportunity to get things done even more effectively, if it sticks to an hour of concentrated work for younger children.''

He added that only 1 per cent of children in one age group in the study were at risk of having problems reading compared to 20 per in comparison schools. High achievers also did better in the schools taking part in the study.

Dr Solity stressed that he wanted to be sure his research was on the right track so the project was due to continue until 2001.

Paul Lincoln, Director of Education for Essex County Council, said: ''As we know from common sense, little and often is probably the best way to learn. This research could be instrumental in taking the National Literacy Strategy further."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said the recommendation for primary schools to spend a concentrated hour a-day teaching literacy was based on a wide range of research. Some was carried out by the Office for Standards in Education, other research was compiled in a survey of best practice in Britain and abroad.

She added that ministers were determined that the standard of English was improved and the approach was a key part of the strategy.

Ted Wragg, Professor of Education at Exeter University, said he was ''sceptical but not negative'' about the Warwick research.

He said studies often produced very good results just because the teachers were very enthusiastic and excited about taking part. The problem was what happened after the initiative stopped.