Plain English Summary
Background and study aims
Almost one in six children in Northern Ireland (NI) leaves primary school without achieving the expected level in English and Maths. In 2010-11, around 9,000 pupils in NI failed to achieve the required standard in literacy and numeracy by the time they left full-time education. Educational underachievement has far reaching consequences, both for individual children and society as a whole. Ready to Learn is a programme package (manualised intervention) with two core elements. The first is an after-school programme for children designed to improve their literacy and promote social, emotional and behavioural skills. The second is a parent-focused programme designed to help parents understand what and how their children are learning in school, and to help them reinforce their children’s learning at home. The main aim of the study was to find out whether Ready to Learn improved the literacy of socially disadvantaged children, and whether it could increase the engagement of parents with their children’s education. In addition, we wanted to know whether, and to what extent, Ready to Learn could improve children’s social, emotional and behavioural skills, because these skills help children learn.
Who can participate?
Co-educational primary schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas in one of two NI Education and Library Boards in Northern Ireland. Participants were children in all P1 classes i.e. children entering school for the first time.
What does the study involve?
Participating schools are randomly allocated into one of two groups. Schools in group 1 receive the Ready to Learn programme. Schools in group 2 (control group) are given £3,000 cash to use as they wish and otherwise provide education as usual. A variety of measures are used to assess the impact of the Ready to Learn programme on the children’s literacy, social, emotional and behavioural skills over a three year period.
What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
Potential benefits include improved educational outcomes (on the grounds that those participating in a trial - in this case teachers and pupils - generally do better, including those in the control group). No risks have been identified.
Where is the study run from?
A total of sixteen co-educational primary schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas in one of two NI Education and Library Boards in Northern Ireland.
When is the study starting and how long is it expected to run for?
April 2010 to August 2013
Who is funding the study?
Atlantic Philanthropies (USA)
Who is the main contact?
Professor Geraldine Macdonald
Prof Geraldine Macdonald
School for Policy Studies
University of Bristol
0117 954 6729
Ready to Learn: a cluster randomised trial of Barnardo's 'Ready to Learn' literacy programme for children starting school
The main aim of this study was to ascertain whether, and to what extent, the Ready to Learn programme improves the literacy of socially disadvantaged children entering primary schools compared with children in schools that do not have access to the programme. The funders wished to commission a cluster randomised trial, both to maximise the rigour of the study and to minimise the contamination effects that would arise with the randomisation of individual students within a school.
Primary objectives: The primary objectives of the evaluation were:
1. To assess the effectiveness of Ready to Learn in improving the literacy of social disadvantaged children
2. To increase and maintain the engagement of parents with their child’s education. The study was designed to address this objective at the school level.
The secondary objectives were:
1. To assess the effectiveness of the Ready to Learn programme in improving children’s social, emotional and behavioural regulation skills
2. To ascertain the relative contributions of the two components of the programme
The tertiary objectives were:
1. To examine the extent to which the manual specifications are applied in practice across the nine school sites, the extent and reasons for variation
2. To identify factors that support or hinder implementation and participant responsiveness
3. To explore the relationship between variation in programme implementation and outcomes
4. If effective, to explore the factors that might account for Ready to Learn’s impact
School for Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen's University of Belfast, 02/11/2010
A single-centre, cluster randomised trial
Primary study design
Secondary study design
Cluster randomised trial
Patient information sheet
Not available in web format, please use contact details to request a participant information sheet
Educational and economic underachievement of socially disadvantaged children starting primary school in Northern Ireland.
In April 2010, the sixteen schools participating in this study were allocated at random into two groups. One group (nine schools) received the Ready to Learn programme. The other seven schools (control group) received £3,000 cash to use as they wished, and otherwise provided ‘education as usual’.
The Ready to Learn programme is a school-based programme with two key components:
1. An after-school literacy programme combining an academic programme aimed at enhancing literacy achievement with a social programme incorporating social, emotional and behavioural regulation skills
2. A family literacy strand designed to help parents or carers whose children are in their first year of school parents to engage with, and support, their child’s education
Primary outcome measures
Improved Reading Achievement were assessed using the following measures (timing of data collection across the three years appears in ()s.
1. The York Assessment of Reading Comprehension [YARC] (Year 3)
2. Concepts about Print [CAP] (Years 1 and 3)
3. The Naming Speed and Non-Word Reading Tests from the Phonological Assessment Battery [PhAB] (Years 1, 2 and 3)
4. The Word Recognition and Phonic Skills [WRaPs3], a standardised measure of word recognition and phonic skills (Years 1, 2 and 3)
5. The British Picture Vocabulary Scale [BPVS] (Years 1 and 3)
6. The Elementary Reading Attitude Survey [The Garfield Test] (Years 1, 2 and 3)
7. Parental interviews (qualitative data)
Parental Engagement assessed using the following measures in years 1 and 2.
8. The Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME)
9. The Home Learning Environment (HLE)
10. Parental interview (qualitative data)
Secondary outcome measures
Social, Emotional and Behavioural Regulations Skills were assessed using the following measures in each of the three years:
1. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)
2. The Social Skills scale of the Teacher-Report of Child: Preschool and Kindergarten Behavior Scales (PKBS)
3. The Assessment of Children’s Emotional Skills (ACES)
4. Teacher/principal interviews
Overall trial start date
Overall trial end date
Participant inclusion criteria
Eligible schools were co-educational primary schools from areas of high social disadvantage in Northern Ireland, with pupil numbers of 100+, who also met the following criteria:
1. Provided evidence of educational underachievement
2. Were not already in receipt of Barnardo’s services / programme
3. P1 intake not a composite class in September 2010
4. Were located in either the Belfast or North Eastern Education and Library Board
5. The school was sustainable for the duration of programme i.e. was not likely to close/be merged with another school
6. Were committed to participating in the trial whether in the treatment or control arm of the study
Target number of participants
Sixteen primary schools that met the inclusion criteria enrolled in the study. Of these, 9 were randomised to the intervention arm and 7 to the control arm. Of the 584 children in P1 classes (entry), the parents of 505 agreed to their children’s participation in the study
Participant exclusion criteria
No exclusion criteria were stipulated other than that schools had to meet all inclusion criteria.
Recruitment start date
Recruitment end date
Countries of recruitment
Trial participating centre
542-544 Upper Newtownards Road
Funding Body Type
private sector organisation
Funding Body Subtype
United States of America
Results and Publications
Publication and dissemination plan
Intention to publish date
Participant level data
Available on request
Results - basic reporting
Results in funder's report: http://www.effectiveservices.org/downloads/Ready-to-Learn-Report.pdf