The West Dunbartonshire Literacy Initiative

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MacKay, T. (2006). The West Dunbartonshire Literacy Initiative: The Design, Implementation and Evaluation of an Intervention Strategy to Raise Achievement and Eradicate Illiteracy. Phase I Research Report. Dumbarton: West Dunbartonshire Council.

ISBN: 0-906938-12-0 (available to order from:



This is the first of two reports and covers the first six years of the study. The aim of this study was to design and evaluate a multiple-component intervention to raise general literacy levels and to address underachievement and illiteracy in areas of socio-economic disadvantage, taking full account of educational change processes in the context of real world research.


A main study and four supporting studies were conducted. The main study involved the design and implementation through six years of a multiple-component intervention in 58 nurseries and primaries, using a cross-lagged design in which pre-intervention population cohorts served as controls for subsequent intervention cohorts of the same age. Children in the early stages (N = 3,000+ annually) were individually assessed on a baseline assessment designed for the study, while older pupils (N = 3,000+ annually) took group tests. The synthetic phonics study used a quasi-experimental design to compare two phonics programmes in 18 schools. The attitudes study was a long-term follow up of 24 children from an earlier randomised control trial. The declaration study designed, implemented and evaluated a novel strategy in 12 nurseries and primaries (N = 565), using a quasi-experimental design. The individual support study was a quasi-experimental study in secondary school (N = 24), followed by extension into 35 primaries.


In the main study, comparison of cohorts showed year-on-year gains on all tests and across all age groups, with indications of sustained post-intervention gains in later years. In each of the four supporting studies gains were found for the experimentals, pointing to benefits in the use of synthetic versus traditional phonics, in changing attitudes to reading, in making declarations of future reading achievement and in the use of intensive individual support.


The interventions reported in this study have resulted in raised achievement, have addressed illiteracy in areas of socio-economic disadvantage and have developed a foundation for planning intergenerational change in attainment levels.

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