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

Conclusions and recommendations

Every Child a Reader: Reading Recovery

1.  The Government's policy that literacy interventions should take place early on in formal education is in line with the evidence. (Paragraph 25)

2.  The Government's position that early literacy interventions are an investment that saves money in the long run is evidence-based. (Paragraph 32)

3.  Ms Willis is right to acknowledge the need to compare Reading Recovery with alternative interventions. We conclude that, whilst there was evidence to support early intervention, the Government should not have reached the point of a national roll-out of Reading Recovery without making cost-benefit comparisons with other interventions. (Paragraph 37)

4.  We are concerned by the low quality of data collection in UK trials on literacy interventions. Government-funded trials should seek the best data so as to make the results as powerful as possible. Running trials that do not collect the best data is a failure both in terms of the methodological approach, but also value for money. (Paragraph 40)

5.  The Government should be careful when selecting evidence in support of educational programmes that have changed over time. Reading Recovery today differs from its 1980s and 1990s ancestors. Evidence used to support a national rollout of Reading Recovery should be up-to-date and relevant to the UK. The Government's decision to roll out Reading Recovery nationally is not based on the best quality, sound evidence. (Paragraph 45)

6.  We recommend that the Government should draw up a set of criteria on which it decides whether a research project should be a randomised controlled trial. (Paragraph 49)

7.  We conclude that a randomised controlled trial of Reading Recovery was both feasible and necessary. (Paragraph 54)

8.  We recommend that the Government identify some promising alternatives to Reading Recovery and commission a large randomised controlled trial to identify the most effective and cost-effective early literacy intervention. (Paragraph 55)

9.  Teaching children to read is one of the most important things the State does. The Government has accepted Sir Jim Rose's recommendation that systematic phonics should be at the heart of the Government's strategy for teaching children to read. This is in conflict with the continuing practice of word memorisation and other teaching practices from the 'whole language theory of reading' used particularly in Wave 3 Reading Recovery. The Government should vigorously review these practices with the objective of ensuring that Reading Recovery complies with its policy. (Paragraph 59)


10.  The Rose Report's definition of dyslexia is exceedingly broad and says that dyslexia is a continuum with no clear cut-off points. The definition is so broad and blurred at the edges that it is difficult to see how it could be useful in any diagnostic sense. (Paragraph 71)

11.  We conclude that 'specialist dyslexia teachers' could be renamed 'specialist literacy difficulty teachers'. There are a range of reasons why people may struggle to learn to read and the Government's focus on dyslexia risks obscuring the broader problem. The Government's support for training teachers to become better at helping poor readers is welcome and to be supported, but its specific focus on 'specialist dyslexia teachers' is not evidence-based. (Paragraph 77)

12.  We recommend that future research on the impact of literacy interventions on children with dyslexia should be well designed randomised controlled trials, using appropriate control groups (including children with other reading difficulties and 'normal' children), and test a range of literacy interventions. (Paragraph 82)

13.  We recommend that the Government be more independently minded: it should prioritise its efforts on the basis of research, rather than commissioning research on the basis of the priorities of lobby groups. (Paragraph 84)


14.  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. (Paragraph 87)

15.  We recommend that the Government review its Magenta Book with a view to raising its expectations of social science research and evidence in relation to policy. (Paragraph 88)

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Prepared 19 December 2009