The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The circle of wildly splashing blame reaches so wide in this article, that it's difficult not to read it as a tautology.
Schools to blame for children who hate books

"The "unacceptable" failure of many schools to teach children to read properly is laid bare today in a damning report from education watchdog Ofsted.
Under-achieving children are being "let down by the system" despite a decade of attempts to force schools to improve the teaching of reading.
Teachers in the worst schools are often too ready to blame parents for not caring enough to make sure their children read at home, Ofsted said. But the best schools make no excuses for under-achievement, even if most pupils do not speak English as their first language.


The main failings that Ofsted highlights today include:

# Too many teachers still do not know how to teach reading properly, despite the introduction of the national literacy strategy six years ago.
# Too many headteachers know too little about how reading should be taught, and fail to ensure their staff apply the best techniques consistently.
# Many schools do not encourage children to read for pleasure, even when they are good at it. Most of the schools do not see this as a problem.
# The gap between the best and worst readers is among the highest in the industrialised world by the age of 10
# Children who fall behind often end up with a hatred for reading, making it much more difficult for them to improve later on.


Many of their observations make for depressing reading.
One spoke to a boy of eight who was already below the level expected for his age. The inspector wrote: "I pick up the book and ask if we can read this one together. He hesitates and looks away, turning his face. He picks up the book a few minutes later and tries to read the title. He spells the word and sounds out each letter but cannot blend them.
"He is frustrated and says, 'I don't know the cover, how can I read it?'"
After more frustration and "wild" guesses, the inspector recorded: "He gives up and says that he is rubbish and can never read."
The incompetence of schools that do not teach reading well enough drags down children who pick up reading quickly, Ofsted said.
One seven- year- old girl told inspectors she was not allowed to read books outside the school's reading scheme. Because they were so easy, she finished them at home in a couple of days."

[NB. Bitter experience teaches me that everything in education is political, and so I should mention that the source organ has political leanings which contradict those of the current elected government, and an election is beginning to loom].

While the blame is being shared, showered, shrugged and shuffled out of, I feel duty bound to point out that every secondary school at which I've worked has contained an English department which has been instructed by its borough Literacy Advisor not to teach whole texts [aka fiction / novels] more than once a year, and to ditch 'private reading'.

We are left stymied by a curriculum that currently has me spend seven weeks at a time teaching children to write: instructions, explanations, reports, different types of letter.

It's difficult to create any interest in such a restrictive curriculum.

Moreover, it's disempowering to children to make their diet of fiction so bland and weak.

Fiction is not a life-skill, not a job-qualification. As a source of inspiration and a means of viewing the world through new eyes, it's unquantifiable. As a means of instilling empathy, too.
What fiction also excels in is functioning as a delivery system for literacy.

Ofsted and the so-called Literacy Strategy share some of the blame and shame that this report should - quite rightly - trigger.