Rhondda Cynon Taf is a Local Authority in the top three areas of deprivation in Wales, with 16 Communities First areas and high levels of financial and social deprivation. The Authority also includes large numbers of adults with poor basic skills.
Four years ago, the Authority decided to use their annual Basic Skills Agency Strategic Intervention Grant (SIG) to tackle poor literacy in the area. They investigated Catch Up, a programme developed by Oxford Brookes University to improve the literacy of Year 2 and 3 children, slipping behind in their reading. It was felt that these children would not achieve a Level 4 in literacy at the end of Key Stage 2 unless an intervention project was put in place. A management team of three – Selwyn Jones, Advisory Headteacher, John Williams, School Improvement Officer and Greg Owens, Primary Advisor ESIS – investigated the programme and decided to trial it in the Authority. A Coordinator was recruited alongside a team of Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) to run the new programme. They identified a number of schools who would receive support, targeting Community First areas, the wards of highest deprivation, and the areas with the highest numbers of adults with basic skills needs. The team refined the Oxford Brookes model, into what they now describe as their ‘Rolls Royce’ model. After an initial teething period, the programme has proven extremely popular with both schools and the children and has seen some dramatic results.
The Catch Up LSAs visit a school for half a day each week with around ten specially selected hesitant readers in Years 2 and 3 each receiving a ten minute session. Emma Coates, Literacy and Numeracy Project Coordinator explains, ‘We’ve found that the children who benefit the most are those who are falling behind in their reading and lack confidence. The one-on-one attention of an LSA has a huge impact on their confidence and a dramatic impact on their achievement.’ Emma stresses that for children with special needs, Catch Up is not the programme for them, ‘Our Catch Up project is designed to take children who are between 12 and 36 months behind in reading and give them the strategies and the confidence to improve.’ Improvement isn’t the only goal of Catch Up, ‘We aim to foster an enjoyment of reading,’ says Selwyn Jones.
As part of the Catch Up programme, one school-based LSA is trained by the Catch Up team to match the weekly sessions with another session of support. This ensures the children receive two weekly ten minute sessions.
The structure of the Catch Up session is important – two minutes of reading preparation followed by four minutes of monitored reading and four minutes of linked writing. The pre-reading is the key to success for the children, and the aspect that marks out Catch Up as different from ordinary reading sessions. The preparation gives the child cues and clues, and highlights any difficult or new words that might slow a child down or cause a lack of confidence. Books are selected that haven’t been read before and after the pre-read, children are expected to achieve 95% accuracy. Lot’s of praise and prompts where necessary, ensure a child enjoys the read and doesn’t feel like he or she is failing. Linked writing practices spelling words and sounds which the child struggled with during the session. Record sheets ensure communication between the Catch Up LSA and the school LSA.
Support for schools
Key to the long-term success of the project is ensuring that it is embedded in schools – ‘We’re always very aware’ says Emma, ‘that one day the funding might not be here. It’s very important to us to ensure that the schools will be able to continue without our support.’ To this end, the project is delivered in three phases ending in an exit period to prepare the school to manage alone. This also ensures that the maximum number of schools can be helped as and when support is withdrawn from one, it can be given to another.
The first phase of support – full support – lasts for between one and three years. One of the eight Catch Up LSAs delivers one session a week with between eight and ten children which is matched by the school-based LSA, trained by the Catch Up team. When the school is deemed capable of running the project themselves, a Catch Up team LSA visits just once every three weeks to help smooth the transition between full support and exit. During these visits, the Catch Up LSA delivers the reading session and the school-based LSA has free time to work with the children on Catch Up games. Exit schools, in the third stage of the project, manage the Catch Up themselves with the strategies firmly embedded in the school’s curriculum and the school based LSA delivering all the sessions. Full training and top up workshop sessions are available to all schools at whatever stage of the project. This ensures that schools who are exiting the programme are able to continue with training and call upon the Local Authority’s team for advice, even after they have exited. Newsletters, phone calls and documents such as Good Practice Guides to advise schools on how to involve parents, help schools at all stages of Catch Up keep in touch with the programme and aware of best practice.
A large part of the delivery model is centred on the training of the head teacher, teacher co-ordinator and school based LSA. It is important that all involved are fully aware of the commitment needed from them at various levels, if the project is to continue effectively. Very often the most successful projects will be in schools where there is strong support from the head teacher, ensuring timetables are set and adhered to and resources are made available.
A growing focus over the next few years will be on the opportunity for school based LSAs to gain a National Open College Network (NOCN) accreditation in the delivery of Catch Up. There are already 75 LSAs completing the accreditation with many more waiting to start. Emma Coates explains, ‘If we can support, train and leave in schools a highly experienced and qualified LSA then the project has more chance of continuing for years to come, helping future generations of children in RCT improve their reading.’
The project began in 2002 and is now in its fourth year with funding to take it through until 2008. This year 50 schools are in full support, 31 at maintenance stage and 12 schools have exited. To date, Rhondda Cynon Taf’s ‘Rolls Royce’ Catch-Up model has targeted 1600 children in ‘full support’ from over 90 schools in the region. On average, the children targeted by Catch Up improve their reading ages by 20 months in a nine month period. Some children have shown massive improvements – up to four years in nine months. Alongside such concrete evidence, the enthusiasm of the schools involved speaks volumes. ‘Better than chips!’ says Elaine Williams Headteacher of Parc Lewis Primary School. Another local school, Glantaf Infants, is also thrilled with the programme citing examples of unenthusiastic readers volunteering, after catch Up, to read allowed in Assembly. In fact, 75% of the schools involved fund further LSAs time themselves in order to be able to run the programme higher up the school on other year groups.
Aside from the improvement in reading ages, perhaps the highest accolade of the project comes from the children themselves. The programme is incredibly popular, providing a psychological boost to under confident children. As Emma says, ‘Children who aren’t selected for Catch Up because they don’t require it, beg to be allowed on it and the children who graduate from Catch Up don’t want to leave. Children who join as non-readers leave as enthusiastic book lovers.’ Pre and post attitude surveys of the children reveal increased confidence and self-esteem and radically different attitudes to reading.
Catch Up models run in many English Local Authorities and in pockets of Wales but not the same model. The Rhondda Cynon Taf Catch Up team is evangelical about its ‘Rolls Royce model’, and several other authorities are looking to roll out their model in the coming months. ‘From our experience, we would strongly encourage other Authorities to take Catch Up on board as a strategic intervention into reading,’ says Selwyn Jones. Stringent evaluation throughout Catch Up, annually and mid-term as well as teacher and pupil questionnaires shows great results. The team is also tracking the children who received support in the first year of the project, who were then in Year 3 and are presently in year 6, to see what levels the Catch Up children will achieve in their end of key stage teacher assessments. – hopefully achieving a Level 4.
This year, four numeracy projects, based on ‘Springboard’ and new Wave 3 materials from England, are being piloted with similar success. Children at Level 2c in their maths are targeted on the basis that research shows these children are unlikely to reach the Government set Level 4 target at the age of 11. Mid-term tests show that the numeracy project is moving children from level 2C to 2A within four months.
Next year the project will take on another 11 new schools for literacy Catch Up, making a total in the project of 96. In addition 60 for numeracy – 30 with full support (as in the literacy model) and 30 given the funding and the training to support themselves. This numeracy project was made possible with an additional ‘Training Grant’ from the Basic Skills. Emma and Selwyn plan to take on another 3 LSAs and a part time maths advisor in line with the expansion of the project. By 2007, all 120 schools in the Authority will have received support in the numeracy project.
For more information, contact Emma Coates at firstname.lastname@example.org