Pupils benefit from new reading scheme

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Poor readers in inner-city schools make twice as much progress if they follow a new learning programme, according to a government-funded study revealed yesterday.

Researchers at London University's Institute of Education say the Reading Recovery scheme, pioneered in New Zealand where it has been adopted nationally, has also proved successful in Britain.

Their findings will put pressure on John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, to widen a three-year pilot scheme when it ends next March. The Government announced pounds 10m for Reading Recovery just before the general election in 1992.

Professor Kathy Sylva and Dr Jane Hurry, whose study involved 22 schools in seven local authorities, compared children on the scheme with those who were not. They also compared them with children following a programme of phonics, which involves sounding out letters and blends of letters.

They found that in the first eight or nine months the reading age of pupils on the scheme increased by at least 16 months.

In the same period, the reading age of children in similar neighbouring schools increased by only nine months. They also found that phonics, the method most favoured by traditionalists, did not, when taught in isolation, improve children's reading.

Reading Recovery, which uses a variety of methods, including phonics, is aimed at six-year-olds who are poor readers. They receive individual tuition for half an hour daily for up to 20 weeks.

The aim is to raise the standard of their reading to that of the rest of the class. After completing the programme they should be able to cope without the intensive support it provides. Critics say the expense of between pounds 600 and pounds 800 a child is too great and that pounds 150m would be needed to make the scheme universally available.

Truancy figures in school league tables are to be revised after teachers protested that the Government had published misleading information last autumn, writes Fran Abrams.

Instead of merely containing information on unauthorised absences in secondary schools, this year's tables will also give details of authorised absences. Critics claimed that sick children were marked down as truants if they failed to bring a note, and that children whose parents kept them off without good reason often returned with a sick note and did not appear on the tables.

Yesterday Mr Patten said that this year parents and others will be able to see the total percentage of half-days missed in any school. He denied that his department had got it wrong last year. 'I don't think it was misleading at all - it was the first time we have done it. We are revising the tables in the light of consultation,' he said.