• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Wednesday 19th August, 2009

Follow up highlights value of early years literacy

Given that literacy is a cornerstone of educational success, new evidence from the UK Institute of Psychiatry that children who suffer from poor reading skills are unlikely ever recover the ground they lose is particularly worrying. Headed by Barbara Maughan, the London team tracked down participants in an ambitious study of learning difficulties and psychiatric disorders in children, which was introduced on the Isle of Wight in 1964. In the original study, led by Professor Sir Michael Rutter, children were tested for reading skills, spelling and IQ. Information was also collected about their social class and reading habits. Participants were tested for spelling again when they reached the age of 45, as well as being questioned about how much they read. The latest follow-up study compared changes in spelling skills among adults who were identified as poor readers and good readers when they were children. “Individuals identified as poor readers three decades earlier continued to show major deficits in literacy skills,” the authors say. Over three quarters of those identified as poor readers as children achieved a score classified as deficient, compared to the 3% figure for the general population. Remarkably, there was a 90% correlation between spelling scores recorded during tests in adolescence and in middle age. The original research study also assessed children’s intelligence and family background. But for those with poor reading skills, the only factor that seemed to make a difference was their later involvement in reading-related activities. Continued exposure to literature whatever the level of aptitude for reading was found to be beneficial. “Encouraging children and adolescents with reading difficulties to remain engaged with reading can only be advantageous,” say the authors. How applicable these results are to today's children must be questionable. Education policy during the intervening four decades has tended to put much greater emphasis on literacy in the early years, and, in the adult world, poor spelling is perhaps not the handicap it once was nor such a relevant indicator of aptitude. Widespread, routine use of computers and spell checks means that the everyday problem is much reduced. This Institute research is only one aspect of a wider follow-up to the original Isle of Wight study whose aim is to chart the long-term consequences of childhood disorders and adverse circumstances. See: Maughan B, Messer J, Collishaw S, Pickles A, Snowling M, Yule W and Rutter M (2009), “Persistence of literacy problems: spelling in adolescence and at mid-life,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50, 8, pp 893-901

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