This report on early literacy interventions is our first Evidence Check, a novel programme of work, launched in July 2009, that asks two questions of government: (1) what is the policy? and (2) on what evidence is the policy based?
We have discovered that the Government's focus on early literacy interventions and phonics-based teaching is based on the best available evidence. We have also found that the Government's use of Reading Recovery is based on evidence, but a lower quality of evidence than we, as a Science and Technology Committee, are comfortable with. The Government's decision to roll out Reading Recovery nationally to the exclusion of other kinds of literacy interventions was, however, not evidence-based, and we have suggested that the Government should commission some high quality research, such as randomised controlled trials, in this area.
We have identified the Government's approach to teaching children diagnosed with dyslexia to readnamely, a structured phonics-based programmeis evidence-based on the best available evidence. But we discovered that the evidence base could be much stronger in this area. The Government's focus on dyslexia, from a policy perspective, was led by pressure from the dyslexia lobby rather than the evidence, which is clear that educational interventions are the same for all poor readers, whether they have been diagnosed with dyslexia or not.
In broad conclusion, we found that there was a willingness from the Department to base its approach to early literacy interventions on the evidence. However, we discovered worryingly low expectations regarding the quality of evidence required to demonstrate the relative effectiveness and, in particular, the cost-effectiveness of different programmes.