Primary Briefing: Simon Wrigley Reflects on Recent Trends in Government Policy on Reading in Primary Schools. Simon Wrigley Is an Ex-Chair of NATE and a Member of the NATE Secondary Committee

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Statistics--and inconvenient truths

We have got used to 'Every Child Matters'; now this year we have 'Every Child a Reader'; next year we will get 'Every Child Counts'. You can see a pattern emerging, can't you? And what does this litany of platitudes prove other than the lack of any but the most vote-catching thoughts about education? That unless someone in business, bureaucracy or politics gives us the latest sound-bite, the teaching profession would actually be hell-bent on eating children? 'Every Child's Sweet'?

This is, of course, the usual smoke and mirrors. Of course it's good that we are getting tough on illiteracy--but how about getting tough on the causes of illiteracy too? How do the growing gulfs between rich and poor, over which this government has presided, affect literacy, which the same government protests it wants to improve? And what happens to their own stories when people become literate in other people's? When others prescribe the functions, what does 'functional literacy' really offer? Freedom or slavery?

Reading Recovery

Reading Recovery, part of 'Every Child a Reader', is an excellent programme for helping those who are struggling with early reading. As Jean Gross's research on the Reading Recovery website reveals ('The Long term Costs of Literacy Difficulties':, these children are likely to come from deprived homes with negative experiences of school, and RR offers a rare and precious chance to break the cycle of children's futures being inevitably shaped out of parents' pasts--and create huge savings in social services. It is claimed that every pound spent on early literacy intervention would save fifteen pounds of the educational special needs, health and justice spending currently incurred by trying to rectify growing disaffection which should never have been allowed to develop in the first place.

So, if every child really matters, why not fully fund this, as they do in Australia and New Zealand? Instead, poor English Infant schools must scrape together their funds for training, while the government squanders millions on hopeless tests to hide its own shame. And for why? To prop up the piecemeal and privatised pathways and the tottering statistical shambles that tragically pass for education is these benighted times. Unsurprisingly, at a recent Reading Recovery conference (26/4) Quentin Blake, the final keynote speaker, declared himself 'more incensed than inspired' about the current state of English education. A hall of 200 committed Primary educators grunted in despondent agreement.

Primary Curriculum Review

At a time of growing demand for less prescription, less testing, more enjoyment, more responsiveness, the DCSF has called for evidence in their Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum (this has just ended April 2008). Educators were asked whether

* curriculum content was too heavily prescribed;

* it would be good if the primary curriculum was not based around traditional secondary subjects;

* early years pedagogy--multi-sensory, play-based discovery--should be extended into the Primary Years;

* literacy would be better taught in context rather than in discrete hours;

* personal, social and emotional education needed greater emphasis; the start of formal education might be more flexible

Asking questions is not the same as listening to replies; and listening to replies does not guarantee any change in behaviour. But before the cynics suggest that 'Yes' (the answer that many people will have given to the above questions) will mysteriously morph into 'No', we might take some comfort from the fact that these questions are being asked.

However, before things can get better, it seems that they must get worse. Take these examples from recent Quango training sessions:

Single-level testing

1. NAA, the National Assessment Agency have been running sessions to explain the development of single-level testing (not age-related as currently at ages 7,11 & 14). …


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