Pupils Who Haven't Got the Stamina to Finish a Book; Children Miss out on Great Literature as Schools Keep the Studies Short

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PUPILS can no longer cope with reading whole books because they are given only short extracts to study in English lessons.

They lack 'reading stamina' after becoming used to studying excerpts such as single chapters from key works of literature.

The worrying trend emerges today in an official report on individual subjects which exposes a series of failings in teaching across primary and secondary schools.

Teachers struggle to cope with too much lesson guidance, many have poor subject knowledge and pupils are simply spoon-fed, according to the survey on the state of the English curriculum.

Some of the harshest criticism among 15 assessments from Government advisers focused on teaching in subjects seen by parents as the building block for their children's academic success.

How they rated teaching in some subjects is shown on this page.

When studying literature, only four per cent of secondary schools said they went through entire books in English lessons.

Nearly half, meanwhile, admitted they had increased the system of concentrating on single passages.

The trend 'gave cause for concern', said the report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The findings will come as a devastating setback for ministers, who have pledged to raise standards.

Even when pupils did read whole books, the watchdog found, they often had to repeat titles they had already studied.

'The use of extracts remains widespread,' the report said. Sixth-form teachers complained that pupils did not have a 'sufficiently varied or demanding reading diet' at GCSE to prepare them for A-level study.

This was because they had spent too much time studying snippets of books or short stories, narrowing their experience of literature prior to 1900.

The report added: 'They feel that the dominance of extracts presents a partial view of the experience of reading and does not develop pupils' reading stamina.

'They also believe the use of short stories in anthologies is limiting pupils' experience of pre-20th century literature in particular.

'In addition, there is evidence to suggest that, where pupils do read compete texts, these are limited to a small number of titles that are repeated year after year.' The use of extracts was particularly common in lessons for 11 to 16-year-olds but 'remained a concern' at primary level, the watchdog said. The findings will add to fears that youngsters are growing up with glaring gaps in their knowledge of great literature.

Only recently, Victoria Beckham admitted she had never read a book, insisting she prefers magazines and music.

Children's writing skills are also suffering because schools encourage them to depend on pre-set formats when composing essays and stories, the report found.

They are simply 'reproducing a formula' rather than writing independently.

In a further worrying development, the watchdog repeated concerns first aired over the summer that schools were encouraging pupils to drop English literature at GCSE in favour of media studies.

Growing numbers were teaching English and media studies side-by-side at GCSE instead of the traditional combination of English and English literature.

Primary teachers, meanwhile, were increasingly setting up 'guided' reading sessions with groups of pupils instead of listening to individual students read.

Too many of these sessions provide 'insufficient challenge'.

Last night, a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: 'We advocate a balanced approach where extracts from a novel that pupils are reading are used for close study of how writers achieve particular effects. …