Leader: Literacy rate rise questions the past

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For years, Scotland’s reputation in education has been blighted by poor levels of literacy among school-leavers. Pupils have been let down at the most basic level – a failure casts a long and dark shadow over general educational attainment, job opportunities and quality of life.

But now Edinburgh schools are reporting a significant breakthrough. A “crash course” reading scheme imported from America called Fast Track is yielding results. The scheme provides S1-2 pupils with extra help every week over the course of a school year. And it looks to be lifting pupils’ literacy levels.

The encouraging news 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.

Results have shown what education leaders are describing as a “statistically significant” overall increase. Pupils attending 21 of the Capital’s 23 secondaries improved their average reading scores, with 13 making “highly significant” gains.  

The Fast Track scheme, first developed by US publisher Science Research Associates, requires teachers to drill struggling students through key fundamentals such as word sounds and letters.

It sounds like the phonetics-based system of old which was abandoned by a generation of progressive teachers on the grounds that it was learning by rote and “crushing creativity”.

But there’s no greater crime against creativity than an education system that sees hundreds leaving school without the basic ability to read.

Now the results suggest literacy improvements have been rapid, with youngsters enjoying a 19-month advance in reading age after eight months of teaching during the 2013-14 session.

The results beg searching questions as to why schools have stuck with failing teaching methods for so long and why such a Fast Track scheme has had to be introduced in the first place.

Schools need to take a long hard look at their failed approaches and institute change and improvement to their teaching methods.

Leaving school with an ability to read and write makes a transformative difference to the lives of children and greatly lifts their prospects in later years.

This is progress to be applauded. And while these are early results, Edinburgh’s schools will want to ensure this progress will be maintained and built on.