Leading article: Too important to be put at risk

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The Independent Online

The Government's proposal to axe the Reading Recovery Project (RRP) scheme, which helps schoolchildren who are struggling to learn to read, is wrong-headed and should be reconsidered.

At a cost of £144m, the RRP is relatively expensive. But the initiative – under which pupils who are falling behind receive intensive, one-to-one teaching – is money well spent, with participants progressing at nearly four times the rate of counterparts who do not have the same level of help.

Despite the evidence in its favour, the three-year scheme is not going to be renewed. The explanation put forward by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is that the Government is scrapping the RRP only as part of a wider policy to give head teachers more freedom. All central initiatives, such as the RRP, are to be dismantled, and the money recycled into schools' budgets so they can spend it as they prefer. Where one school might still buy remedial reading classes, another might choose something else.

In times of budgetary plenty, Mr Gove's analysis has much to recommend it. But these are not times of plenty. Schools' funding is being slashed. And head teachers say they are being forced to shrink, or even abandon, RRP schemes because they simply cannot afford to pay for the expensive one-to-one tuition out of sharply squeezed general budgets.

It is a warning to which Mr Gove should pay attention. Remedial reading classes are not an area where Britain can afford to scrimp. The latest round of SATs – the national curriculum tests taken by 11-year-olds – showed one in 10 boys leaving primary school with a reading age of just seven.

Equally worrying is the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, a closely watched survey put together by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Britain ranks 25th in its league table of 15-year olds' reading skills, languishing below not only Germany, France and the US, but also South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The reading skills of Britain's schoolchildren are already not what they should be. Scrapping the RRP is a not a saving. Mr Gove needs to think again.