SHAKESPEARE is being used to improve reading and writing in some of the city’s poorest areas.
Hundreds of primary pupils are benefiting from the unique literacy programme which engages their imagination with classic story lines like Romeo and Juliet.
The stories spark classroom debate and introduce the youngsters to new vocabulary which they don’t hear every day.
The programme - which starts with simplified versions of texts and moves on to more complicated ones - has proved particularly effective with children learning English as a second language.
The introduction of the Fresh Start programme for P5-P7s in 19 pilot schools – 16 in areas of deprivation – has resulted in 70 per cent of youngsters recording improved scores in reading tests.
One teacher said: “From the special abridged texts they quickly learn the basics, it’s brilliant.”
Many of the children taking part have missed out on the “basic building blocks” of learning to recognise individual letters and sounds. The project works with groups of children over two years – taking them from the basics of associating sounds and letters, to building their own texts and learning to recognise unusual words found in advanced literary works. It is now set to be rolled out to more schools across the city and extended to P3 and 4 classes.
Anne Macintosh, Fresh Start project lead at St David’s RC Primary in Muirhouse, said: “The project is different because it doesn’t just focus on reading or handwriting but incorporates all of the different parts of literacy in the one package.”
Ms Macintosh said: “After the early stage the children go on to read texts and then discuss them with peer partners.
“If they’re reading Romeo and Juliet, they’ll be talking about it with partners and having to answer questions like why Romeo had to leave Verona after committing murder.
“They’ll start off with easy texts that appeal to them but that progresses quickly. They’re getting an opportunity to speak a language and vocabulary – words like troubadour, for example – they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to use.”
She said pupils who need help with English as an additional language benefit massively from the new approach. “Very rapidly, they get the basics of how to put the English language together – their progress has been very quick,” she said.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “Encouraging children to read and write, and more importantly to enjoy, books is vital. The results from the Fresh Start project have been really encouraging and I’m delighted more schools are taking part.”
He added: “Initiatives like Fresh Start aim to give young people a love of reading.”