PRIMARY schools across Scotland are adopting pioneering literacy schemes to help close the attainment gap between rich and poor.

The move comes after research found the vocabulary of children from the poorest backgrounds lags more than a year behind that of their classmates from richer homes by the time they start school - and can even be as much as 18 months.

The Sutton Trust, who commissioned the research in 2010, said the divide showed how educational inequality starts young and leaves children from the most disadvantaged homes struggling to keep up throughout their school years.

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As part of the Scottish Government's Attainment Challenge schools are trialling their own approaches including a scheme at Wellshot Primary School, in the east end of Glasgow, which uses active learning to improve vocabulary.

The school, in Tollcross which has some of the highest levels of deprivation in Scotland, focuses first on very basic literacy techniques such as the rhythm and rhyme of words by using listening and talking games.

More formal approaches such as teaching the alphabet and phonics are introduced later, but the school has transformed how pupils experience their first year.

Teachers identify well known stories such as the Three Little Pigs and create different learning zones where pupils can take part in activities related to the story - such as building a house.

Those taking part would wear plastic hard hats and vests as if they were on a building site and work through fun challenges related to being a joiner, a plumber or an electrician while also expanding their vocabulary. Other themes adopted include weather and jobs in science.

Headteacher Jennifer McCluskey said the new approach had created an exciting environment in which pupils were talking enthusiastically about their learning.

She said: "We changed the way our primary children learn in the first year to a much more play-based approach to create a literacy rich environment for them.

"All of the children took up roles and experienced what it was like to be a plumber or a joiner or an electrician and they learned about the names of the tools and the skills they would need to take on those roles.

"It is learning by experience and there is lots of discussions with the teachers and each other and their parents and that builds their vocabulary, but also their understanding so they know what these words mean and can use them in the appropriate context."

Another key part of the scheme is the fact pupils are taught in mixed ability groups which encourages pupils to take control of their learning and help each other.

Graeme Logan, strategic director of schools body Education Scotland, which supports the wider Scottish Attainment Challenge, welcomed the new approach.

He said: "A key priority of the attainment challenge is to close gaps in children’s progress and attainment as early as possible and in this example the school have taken the full use of the flexibility within the curriculum to design learning around what the children need.

“Spending more time in the early years on play and literacy rich learning to close the vocabulary gap is key to stop the gap continuing to widen as children move through school."

Education Scotland inspectors now intend to evaluate the model and share the approach with schools in other parts of Scotland.