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On the same page . . . Dean and Coleman Law partner Ben Coleman with Weston School teacher in charge of structured literacy Nikki Langford. Dean and Coleman Law has donated $5000 towards literacy resources for the school. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

A cash boost for Weston School means a literacy boost for its pupils.

Oamaru law firm Dean and Coleman Law has donated $5000 to the school, to go towards expanding its structured literacy (SL) programme to cover all the school’s pupils.

The school began changing its approach to teaching children how to read and write in the new entrant and year 1 classes, about 18 months ago, principal Deidre Senior said.

It had previously used a‘‘whole language’’ approach.

The Ministry of Education had funded some professional development through the Better Start Literacy Approach, but so far, it was only for teachers of new entrant and year 1 children. This had been led by the University of Canterbury and based on its research, Mrs Senior said.

Data collected by the school, on children who were part of the programme, showed a ‘‘clear increase in the capability of children to learn to read’’, using the SL method.

‘‘Children arriving atour school as new entrants are learning to read more quickly under the SL approach than those who arrived previously and were taught using a ‘whole language’ approach,’’ she said.

The school was now eager to introduce the method across all age groups, to support the older children and strengthen their reading, writing and spelling abilities.

Recent studies showed New Zealand literacy rates were declining, and Mrs Senior said the decision was made to go along the SL route after ‘‘reviewing our practice and our achievement data’’.

‘‘We had concerns about the difficulty that many of our children were having in learning to read.’’

Structured literacy was research-based, and stemmed from findings in The Science of Reading. It meant children were being taught in line with how their brains were developing.

‘‘We have obtained professional development for our teachers, and are slowly building up our resources to support teaching in this way.’’

Books were specifically written to support the scope and sequence of neurological development and, as a result, had targeted letter and sound combinations within them.

‘‘Hence we need to build a whole new set of reading resources across our school.’’

The money from Dean and Coleman would enable the school to equip all the teachers with the physical teaching tools and resources to support them in the classroom.

‘‘Importantly, too — it will also enable us to purchase reading texts that are high interest and appealing to our older students, within the scope and sequence of structured literacy practices.’’

Weston was a decile 8 school, which meant operational funding was lower than those in deciles 1-7, and it was also ineligible for the school donations scheme funding of $200 per child per year (about $54,000), she said.

‘‘Instead we have to ask our parents for a voluntary donation of $100 per child, of which we usually get about $14,000.

‘‘There is a big difference then, in what we can offer within our school.

‘‘This is why our Home and School is so important — and of course their funding has been affected by the cancellation of the fireworks on three occasions.’’

Dean and Coleman managing director and partner Ben Coleman had two children at the school, and said the firm saw the SL programme as beneficial to pupils who learnt in different ways, teachers wishing to upskill, and to the wider education system.

‘‘The English language is conceptually complex, and introducing mechanisms to break down some of those complexities and build greater learning capabilities within that context, is, in our view, a very helpful tool,’’ Mr Coleman said.

‘‘We are thrilled to assist the school with this worthwhile initiative.’’