A comprehensive programme to lift the literacy skills of all learners in their first year at school is having “out of this world” results, says a Waikato principal.

The Better Start Literacy Approach (BSLA) was developed by Professors Gail Gillon and Brigid McNeill from A Better Start National Science Challenge and their team at the University of Canterbury Child Wellbeing Research Institute, and has been awarded a $10M grant by the Ministry of Education for national rollout to all new entrant and Year One students.

An article in the Education Gazette this month describes the big impact the literacy approach is already having on young students’ reading and writing, and also on teacher knowledge and practice.

Firth School in Matamata was among the first to adopt the approach in their 2021 new entrant class. It has worked so well for them that this year they have integrated it across their five junior school classes up to Year 2.

Principal Michelle Ryan describes the results they’re seeing after learners’ first 10 weeks at school, and ongoing after that, as “out of this world”.

“It’s been the best thing for us as it’s very specific, very explicit and very targeted. We have a lot of learners with individual learning needs and they’re all making accelerated progress because of this approach,” the principal told the Education Gazette.

Professor Gillon says she and her team are thrilled with the positive data from the more than 6000 children who have received BSLA right from the start of school.

“The data indicates that with high quality professional learning and development and appropriate supports our new entrant and Year 1 teachers can quickly advance children’s foundational literacy skills within the first 10 weeks of class teaching.

“They are also identifying early children who need additional small group support and understand the teaching strategies necessary to support these learners. The amazing results we are seeing with BSLA is a reflection of our talented junior school teachers and the expertise of our literacy specialists who are supporting them,” she tells the Education Gazette.

BSLA is a comprehensive approach to build strong foundational literacy skills for all learners in their first year at school. After 10 weeks of receiving BSLA, children are assessed again to see how they are responding and to help teachers identify next steps for each learner.

Professor Gillon says the Better Start Literacy Approach is working particularly well in schools where there is a strong leadership commitment, and where teachers are working together to implement the approach.

Read the full Education Gazette article here