Literacy programmes evidence check report

18 December 2009

Expectations by the Department for Children, Schools and Families of the quality of the evidence base for reading programmes are worryingly low, concludes the Science and Technology Committee in a report published today

It urges the Government to commission randomised controlled trials (RCTs) – the gold standard research model – in this area.

It is particularly concerned about the quality of evidence demonstrating cost-effectiveness of different programmes.

The Committee also recommends that the Government reviews its guidelines on RCT design; it says even Wikipedia is more thorough and informative.

Today’s report is the first of the Committee’s Evidence Check programme, which tests the Government’s use of evidence in policy-making on a number of topics, and examines early literacy interventions – in particular the Reading Recovery programme, for the lowest achieving readers – and dyslexia.

The Committee concludes:

  • the Government’s focus on early literacy interventions and phonics-based teaching is based on the best available evidence
  • the use of Reading Recovery is based on a lower quality of evidence than the Committee is comfortable with
  • the decision to introduce Reading Recovery nationally is not evidence based

The Committee was alarmed to discover a complete lack of randomised controlled trials using standardised test scores for the Reading Recovery programme in the UK school system, before national implementation of the programme.

It also says the Government should be more independently minded in the formulation of dyslexia policy: priorities appear to be based on pressures from lobby groups rather than on research.

The Chairman of the Committee, Phil Willis MP, said:

"This Evidence Check is a new approach to scrutinising government policy and it has been an extremely useful exercise. We were pleased to find that government is genuinely eager to base its policy on evidence.

"However, the government's ambitions have not been met in full with regard to its evidence base for a national roll out of Reading Recovery and its emphasis on dyslexia to the exclusion of other reading difficulties.

"When the government commissions research it should be high quality research. Otherwise it is wasting public money.

"The government should stop talking about specialist dyslexia teaching. Children diagnosed with dyslexia and children who struggle with reading for other reasons are taught how to read in exactly the same way."

Image: iStockphoto

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