Though national literacy rates seem to be trending downwards, Gore Main School is at the forefront of changing that, its principal says.

A new structured literacy programme was fully adopted by the school last week, taking a different approach to the way children learn how to spell.

For half-an-hour each day, the whole school focuses purely on spelling using the same learning resources, principal Glenn Puna said.

For that period, pupils are grouped in classes based on their literacy level, giving every pupil a chance to succeed.

‘‘Because it’s pitched at the level they’re at . . .every day they’re hitting success and that’s huge for a child and their love of learning,’’ he said.

‘‘They want to get the five out of five. That’s addictive, getting that daily sense of achievement.’’

There was a specific class for older pupils identified to be ‘‘at-risk learners’’, to address their difficulties.

Mr Puna hoped the need for such a class would disappear in the coming years as younger pupils progressed through the programme where ‘‘everyone’s moving together at the same time . . .with lots of repetition and lots of practice’’.

It would be very unlikely ‘‘for a child to slip through the gaps’’, he said.

Outside the box . . . Gore Main School teacher Natasha McColl teaches spelling to pupils (from left) Thea Davis, Billie Smith and Charlie Grant (all 9) as part of a new structured literacy programme. PHOTO: MICHAEL CURREEN

Lead literacy teacher Natasha McColl, who led the school in adopting the programme after seeing its success at a school in Wanaka, said the old approach was not working for all pupils and something needed to change.

‘‘There’s over 30 years’ worth of research that this type of teaching benefits all children, regardless of their learning levels or needs. Nobody’s left behind.

‘‘It’s backed by science and we will never teach the old way ever again . . . [which] was to throw them some random words for the week and memorise them.’’

Under the structured literacy programme, pupils gained an understanding of the rules of the English language and why things were spelled the way they were, giving them the tools to decode words.

Pupils were enjoying the structure so far, she said.

‘‘They know what to do. They know what to expect when they come in.’’

This consistency was a key part of the programme’s success, as it was the same structure in every classroom, allowing pupils to build upon their knowledge as they progressed through their primary school education.

It had taken time for the teachers to learn how to teach the new structure but she was confident it would result in better literacy rates.

Some teachers from other schools were wanting to see how it was done, she said.

‘‘There’s a lot of interest from other schools now. I feel like it’s gaining momentum.’’