Our approach

Our research began in the 1990s when Peter Hatcher, an educational psychologist, joined the Department of Psychology in York to work with Charles. Peter had been running a programme of reading intervention in Cumbria for some years and wanted to evaluate it. A robust controlled trial was set up and the intervention found to be effective. The results were published in a landmark paper. Cumbria County Council continue to train teachers to deliver the intervention.

According to Greg Brooks, the educationalist, reading intervention is the intervention for poor readers with the strongest evidence base.

Since the landmark publication of Hatcher, Hulme & Ellis (1994), Charles, Maggie and their colleagues have been conducting evaluations of interventions for language and literacy in educational settings. This research has been funded by Nuffield Foundation, ESRC, North Yorkshire County Council, Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation. Together the findings of these studies show:

It is possible to improve basic reading skills by training phoneme awareness and letter knowledge in the context of systematic reading practice using books. This is in line with international findings regarding how best to improve reading fluency.   We have evaluated this approach when delivered in whole class settings by class teachers, in Year 1 delivered to poor readers by teaching assistants (TAs)(Reading Intervention) and in the early years to children with poor oral language skills (Nuffield Phonology & Reading). Such an approach is also effective for improving the basic reading skills of children with Down syndrome (supplemented by training in vocabulary and oral narrative).


Children who respond poorly to reading intervention tend to have oral language difficulties.

It is possible to improve oral language skills by intervention focusing on developing listening skills, vocabulary and narrative skills (Nuffield Oral Language Programme). A 15-week oral language intervention delivered in preschool can improve vocabulary knowledge though generalisation to wider language abilities is poor. A 30-week intervention starting in preschool and continuing through the first two terms of Reception improves oral language and narrative skills; similarly a 20-week intervention starting in Reception class is effective.

Improvements in language skills mediate gains in reading comprehension in Year 1.

A 20-week oral language intervention can improve the reading comprehension skills of children in primary school (Years 4/5).

TAs who are trained and supported can deliver interventions for language and reading effectively. TAs also need time to prepare the intervention sessions and support from the mainstream teacher with regard to timetabling.

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