Summer reading schools failed to raise standards

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The Government's summer literacy schools failed to improve children's reading, but did make them more enthusiastic about learning. A report to be published today is expected to question the use of "quick-fix" solutions for poor readers, says Judith Judd, Education Editor.

Overall, the reading of 900 11-year-olds who attended the literacy summer schools scheme did not improve. Some actually chalked up lower scores on tests at the end of the course than they did at the beginning. Equally, some did better.

All the pupils, who were among those just below the expected standard for their age in reading, received 50 hours extra tuition in 29 two-week summer schools at a cost of pounds 300,000.

The scheme, which has the personal backing of the Prime Minister and was much trumpeted by the Government, was first publicised in June when Stephen Byers, the schools standards minister, said that 870 children would "be offered the chance to boost their reading skills at the new literacy summer schools".

At the end of August, the Prime Minster chose to mark his return from holiday by announcing that the scheme was being expanded to include 16,000 pupils at 500 centres next year.

Today's report, commissioned by advisers at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is based on tests carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research. The foundation tested a sample of children who attended this year's summer schools before and after their courses.

Its report is understood to suggest that other Government proposals such as a daily literacy hour in primary schools have a better prospect of raising standards than the summer schools. Ministers will, however, be able to argue that the schools have been a success because they have motivated pupils. The report says that they are more positive about both school and reading than they were last term. That may prove important in improving their reading in the long-term.

Better literacy is one of the Government's key pledges on education. Ministers have set a target for 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to have reached the expected standard in English by the year 2002. The present figure is 62 per cent.

Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "You cannot necessarily expect progress to show up immediately in tests. If there is an improvement in attitude that may lead to improvement over a whole year."

The Government, she suggested, is confused. There might be an argument for providing a reading activity during the holidays but that would not necessarily lead to improved reading. Children progress best with teachers who knew them well, she added.

In August, Mr Blair promised another pounds 4 million of Government money for summer literacy schools and Downing Street said that Maurice Hatter, chairman of IMO Precisions Controls, would donate a further pounds 1 million. Mr Hatter's donation was disclosed hours after Mr Blair appealed for private sector investment to match the Government's.