The Literacy Hour

Stephen Machin, Department of Economics, University College London

In countries like the UK and the US, a significant and challenging problem facing
educators is how to ensure that future generations of adults do not suffer from the severe
basic skills problems that significantly hinder some of today’s generation of adults. We
look at a primary school programme introduced into English schools, the literacy hour, to
work out whether changing the structure and content of teaching can enhance literacy
skills and act as a tool to alleviate problems of low literacy. Our results point to a
significant impact of the literacy hour on reading and English, showing an important
effect of changes in literacy instruction on educational production, and one that is bigger
for boys than for girls. The policy is seen to be highly cost effective.
These findings are of strong significance when placed into the wider education
debate about what works best in schools for improving pupil performance. The evidence
reported here suggests that public policy aimed at changing the content and structure of
teaching can significantly raise pupil achievement. Compared to other policies in terms of
cost effectiveness, the literacy hour does seem to be extremely successful and have
practical implications for raising literacy standards in many countries.

Date: 26 April-00 0000