7:00pm Saturday 17th March 2012
By Fran Bardsley
IT DOESN’T require pens and paper or even books.
But a video-based activity programme is the latest drive to improve literacy in schools in some of Oxford’s most deprived areas.
Backed by patron and education expert Prof Sir Tim Brighouse, former Oxford University lecturer Dr Buffy McClelland set up not-for-profit company Move4words after a viral brain injury left her struggling to read.
She used the ‘sensory’ techniques she employed to help her own reading skills to develop the programme, which is currently going on in seven Oxford primaries.
Dr McClelland, 57, from Cowley, said: “I am really focusing on areas of deprivation because that is where the biggest problems with literacy are.”
The programme may sound unusual – just 10 to 15 minutes of physical tasks and eye-focusing exercises each morning for 12 weeks – but Dr McClelland said five years of trials in areas including Wigan, Derby and Nottingham had shown dramatic improvements in literacy.
She said: “The kids have to really concentrate to do some quite specific focused physical movements and eye movements. It’s all about attention. What they learn is how to pay attention and how to concentrate.
“Because it is much easier to learn to concentrate than sitting at a book and trying to read, they learn the concentration skills this way and then those skills are available to them so they then find things like reading, writing and maths much easier.”
St John Fisher Primary School headteacher Jude Bennett said: “We are very pleased with Move4words.
“We have used the programme with a small group of children with specific literacy difficulties and anecdotally some of the children appear to be concentrating better and approaching literacy tasks with greater clarity.
“We are excited to get to the point of hard evidence when we look at the exit data at the end of the programme.”
Schools are charged £250 for the 12-week course and can use it with both children who are struggling with literacy and higher achievers.
Dr McClelland said her trials indicated that the skills learned continued to have an impact three years after the course finished.
She said: “It’s just lovely seeing the smile on their faces while they are doing it – you can see some of the kids must have challenges in concentration, but they are really working on it.”
Rose Hill Primary School teacher Nicola Matthews said: “Many of the children have noticed improvements of their own. As a class I find they settle down very quickly after the sessions.
“There is definitely a marked change in their ability to concentrate during the sessions themselves and most children can now use both hands more easily for fine motor tasks.”
Prof Brighouse said: “I am hugely impressed with the technique, and Buffy’s philosophy and approach.”
The other schools involved are Pegasus, Windale and Orchard Meadow in Blackbird Leys, John Henry Newman in Littlemore and Wood Farm.
In December, we revealed that nearly one in three children in Oxford start secondary school without mastering basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills.
Figures showed that while 75 per cent of 11-year-olds across the county achieved the benchmark Level 4 in Key Stage 2 tests, at city primaries less than 68 per cent of pupils made the grade.
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