Catch up is great, but it’s even better to catch them early

Julia Douetil

News of the additional catch up premium, for children failing to reach national curriculum level 4 in reading and maths at age 11, gets two cheers and a plea. Literacy is so central to education, culture and work that any help for those who struggle with reading or writing must be welcomed, whatever their age or phase in education.

Poor literacy has a devastating personal impact and in an age of austerity it is a drain on resources that we cannot afford. Harsh though it sounds, children and young people with literacy difficulties will be less likely to contribute to the national purse, through taxes and wealth creation, and more likely to drain it through benefits and crime.  

So it’s a hearty cheer to the acknowledgement tacit in this announcement that complex literacy problems cost more to resolve than can be reasonably funded from the normal school budget. If these children’s problems were easy and cheap to solve, they would have been sorted out long before they reached the start of Key Stage 3. 

Add to that a resounding hoorah for recognition that, whilst there is considerable overlap between financial disadvantage and potential literacy difficulties, they are not the same.  Children who are entitled to free school meals are twice as likely to be among the lowest attaining in literacy – though just 19% of the general population, they make up 47% of the lowest attaining children identified as needing Reading Recovery. But half of the lowest attaining children desperately in need of intensive literacy support are ineligible for the Pupil Premium as it stands. 

So all credit to the Coalition Government for this very positive move, but we need it extended to Key Stage 1 as a matter of urgency. The evidence is compelling that intervening early to nip literacy difficulties in the bud is by far the most efficient and effective solution. Following Reading Recovery at age six, the lowest attaining children not only catch up with their peers within 20 weeks, but continue to progress at an average rate at least to the end of Key Stage 2. Our recent monitoring identified 374 children who had completed Reading Recovery at age six, and had now reached end of KS2 Assessments at age 11.  These had been the lowest attaining in their class, those predicted to fail to reach level 3 at the end of Key Stage 2. In reading 95% achieved level 3 or above, and 78% achieved level 4 or above, comfortably within the average for their age. In writing 98% achieved level 3 or above and 68% achieved level 4 or above. 

The statistic of 30,000 children per year failing to reach Level 3, a basic level of literacy, at age 11 has been stubbornly resistant to change, until now. We have an effective remedy to this blight on young lives. By extending their catch up premium to Key Stage 1 as a matter of urgency, the Coalition Government could make it happen.


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Posted in Childhood & early education, Teaching, learning, curriculum & assessment

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UCL Institute of Education

This blog was written by academics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), for anyone interested in current issues in education and related social sciences.
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