Evidence Check 1: Early Literacy Interventions - Science and Technology Committee Contents

1  Background

    This Government expects more of policy makers. More new ideas, more willingness to question inherited ways of doing things, better use of evidence and research in policy making and better focus on policies that will deliver long-term goals.

    Cabinet Office, Modernising Government, 1999[1]

Evidence Check

1. The House of Commons Science and Technology (S&T) Committee, after an absence of nearly two years, was re-formed on 1 October 2009. Our first priority was to continue the work that we undertook as the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) Committee: to test the then Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills on its use of scientific and engineering expertise in governance. But now, as the Science and Technology Committee, we aim to extend this work across all Government departments. Therefore, in preparation for the transformation from IUSS to S&T, we commissioned work to assess the Government's use of evidence in policy-making.

2. In July 2009, we launched a novel programme of work dubbed 'Evidence Check'. We wrote to the Government on a number of topics and asked two questions: (1) what is the policy? and (2) on what evidence is the policy based? The topics were:

  • the licensing of homeopathic products by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA);
  • the diagnosis and management of dyslexia;
  • swine flu vaccinations;
  • literacy and numeracy interventions;
  • the teaching of 'pseudoscience' at universities;
  • health checks for over 40s;
  • measuring the benefits of publicly-funding research;
  • the future of genetic modification (GM) technologies;
  • the regulation of synthetic biology; and
  • the use of offender data.

3. On receipt of the Government's responses,[2] we selected two topics that we felt required further scrutiny: (1) literacy and numeracy interventions and (2) the diagnosis and management of dyslexia. We decided to bring these topics together to form our first Evidence Check and in so doing, chose to narrow the focus to look only at early literacy (not numeracy) interventions—in particular the Every Child a Reader programme—and considered the issue of dyslexia in parallel.

4. The reader should note that this is one part of our Evidence Check programme of work. We also decided to take further the topic of the licensing of homeopathic products by the MHRA. In this instance, we have broadened the focus to cover both the licensing and also the public funding of homeopathy. In addition, we sought answers to the Evidence Check questions—what is the policy and what evidence backs it up—on another seven topics:

  • brain gym (a movement-based programme intended to enhance the learning of children);
  • teaching English as an additional language;
  • street lighting, CCTV and crime;
  • road safety: bicycle helmets;
  • road safety: speed cameras;
  • wind turbine syndrome; and
  • the human provenance pilot project.

5. The Government's responses to these Evidence Check questions have been published online[3] and we expect to select one of these topics to be our third Evidence Check, to take place in early 2010.

The inquiry

6. This inquiry evolved from two separate questions on literacy interventions and dyslexia. Although they overlap, the dual focus has remained throughout. Most of the written submissions were on one topic or the other and our evidential hearings maintained this pattern. Because we had commissioned responses from the Government prior to launching our inquiry, the Government's response was available for interested parties to read and comment on in their written submissions.

7. On 4 November 2009 we heard from two panels, the first on early literacy interventions and the second on dyslexia. In practice, the expertise of each panel spread across both topics and we explored elements of both issues with both panels. On 9 November 2009 we took evidence from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Diana R. Johnson MP, to discuss the Government's policy on early literacy interventions; and the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Carole Willis, to discuss the evidence on which the Government's policy is based.

Structure of the report

8. The report is in two parts. The first is about early literacy interventions; the second about dyslexia. In each case, we have outlined the Government's policy, before stipulating what we would expect of a good evidence base and then proceeding with the Evidence Check.

1   Cm 4310, p 16 Back

2   Currently available on the Committee 's internet web pages at http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/science_technology/s_t_misc_reported_papers_08_09.cfm; and to be published later in the session. Back

3   http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/science_technology/s_t_misc_reported_papers_09_10.cfm Back

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Prepared 19 December 2009