'All Children to Be Reading by Six? Will Teachers Ever Be Able to Make Politicians Understand How Education Really Works?'

Article excerpt

EDUCATION QUANDARY

Hilary's advice

This Year One teacher is furious. She says that proposing a one- size-fits-all reading benchmark takes no account of children's differences, and that David Cameron's latest educational ploy is only about vote-catching and not about education.

I agree. Two of my three children would have failed a six-year- old reading test miserably, and gone on through school with this failure strung around their necks, even though they are both now flourishing at university.

Of course children must learn to read as soon as they are able, and it is lamentable that this does not happen. But teachers need to speak up and to point out that you cannot achieve this with Whitehall-set targets, or even with wall-to-wall synthetic phonics.

What is needed is the following: an enriching, play-based pre- school experience for all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds; careful tracking by teachers of children's early school progress; time and money being made available to help those children who have been identified as struggling; and a sophisticated deployment of this money and time to support children according to their particular needs.

We also - badly - need to tackle this country's traditional anti- learning culture, which lies behind so much school underachievement, and that means getting parents and families on board, too. Last week I sat in on an award-winning teacher who was leading an exemplary lesson in a much-praised state school. His teaching was the best you would find anywhere, but even so, one teenage girl chose to flounce out in a self-dramatising Catherine Tate moment, never to return. Teachers and schools will only ever be able to do so much. The rest is down to the kind of society - and children - we aim to develop.

Readers'advice

The Opposition had seemed to be getting the message about the drawbacks of over-intellectual early learning - but this volte-face quintessentially highlights the dangers of children's education being a political football kicked around at the whim of competitive party politics. …