‘Massive improvement’ in Edinburgh school literacy

David Lumsden and Nikola Prostko participate in the Fresh Start programme at St David's RC Primary in 2013. Picture: Greg Macvean
David Lumsden and Nikola Prostko participate in the Fresh Start programme at St David's RC Primary in 2013. Picture: Greg Macvean
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SCHOOLS are winning the battle to improve struggling youngsters’ literacy skills, new figures suggest.

Teaching staff said a “crash course” reading scheme called Fast Track – which provides S1-2 pupils with extra help every week over the course of a school year – had resulted in “massive improvements”.

I’m in favour of anything we can do to try and help kids improve their literacy

Paul Edie

More than 340 pupils were put on the programme in August 2014, with results recorded last month showing it had been a success.

The number of youngsters needing extra help has also fallen, with an average of 15 taking part at each of the 23 secondaries involved – down from 20 in the project’s first year.

That drop was put down to the success of primary school literacy drives such as Fresh Start, which is aimed at P5-7 pupils and uses Shakespeare texts to boost reading and writing.

First developed by US publisher Science Research Associates, Fast Track sees teachers drill struggling students through key fundamentals such as basic word sounds and letters.

Literacy improvements have been rapid, with the average pupil who took part in 2013-14 enjoying a 19-month advance in ­reading age after eight months of teaching.

Of the 23 high schools, 13 made “highly significant” gains over the last year, while two remained at the same level.

Improved data comes after the scheme was extended to all of the city’s high schools following a successful initial rollout to selected campuses in 2013-14.

Martin Gemmell, Edinburgh’s principal education psychologist, said: “[The] gain is crucially moving poorer readers into the average range.

“Schools have therefore targeted their poorer readers and taught them to read.”

“This means that secondary schools are more aware of pupils with intractable issues where support beyond the group intervention of Fast Track is necessary.”

He added: “We’ve still got to entice [pupils] into the whole world of literature.

“It could be magazines about computing, it could 
be football, it could be anything.”

Opposition figures have welcomed fresh evidence of the Capital’s improving literacy trend but warned against complacency.

Councillor Paul Edie, leader of the city’s Liberal Democrats, said: “I’m a pragmatist – I’m in favour of anything we can do to try and help kids improve their literacy skills, because it’s such an important part of equipping them for the rest of their lives.

“This is not easy to carry out and if [an approach] can work, and it looks like this is working very well, then I 
congratulate wholeheartedly the staff involved.”

He added: “This is making a real difference to the lives of school pupils and will help them in their futures.

“I would like to keep an eye on how this is developing over the coming years – some year groups are more able than others – but this certainly does look like a very promising start.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com