The Reading Challenge

May 2015

Although levels of literacy have increased well with the introduction of The National Curriculum and the acceptance of the pre-eminent importance of phonics in the teaching of reading, I continue to see children, in particular dyslexic children, who have not mastered the early stages of reading by six or seven years of age. This is despite a couple of years of teaching.

There are two changes I would like to see to improve this situation.

One, would be a decrease in the prevalence of an exclusive use of ‘synthetic phonics’. Unfortunately although well-intentioned, its exclusive use has led to the abandonment of the role of the recognition of single words as part of the early teaching of reading. Names and words such ‘said’ and ‘you’ need to be learnt as ‘sight’ words as they can’t be sounded out. Although these words are recognised as ‘tricky’ in the newest practice, there is so much emphasis on ‘sounding out all through a word’, this aspect gets lost to the detriment of some children.

The second would be the re-printing of the many brilliant reading schemes which guarantee dyslexic children will eventually learn to read. I would hope, beg and pray that a publisher, a wealthy individual or, dare I say it, a government department will reprint these books. The ones we need to see back in print are:

Link Up (about 15 books) – for beginners; one of the few written specifically for those with reading difficulties

  • New Way (about 40 books) for young beginners
  • Ginn 360 (about 40 books) A reasonable standby
  • Thunder (short scheme about a dinosaur and friends) Also published by Ginn
  • Robot (short scheme about a robot and a girl) Also Ginn
  • Last but not least for Upper Primary / Lower Secondary: The Wellington Square Series.

These all combine phonic progression with sight word development.

That is not to say that there haven’t been good new reading schemes developed over the last 25 years, but these ones need to come back into print to at the very least give choice!


More posts below

School Holidays – Right or Wrong?

February 2015


The Conservative Government has created new legislation outlawing holidays and other time off, taken in term time.

There are so many arguments against this that it’s difficult to know where to start. There is, of course, the obvious one that this is surely against Conservative values such as initiative and strong family bonds.

The policy has some history and some baggage. I believe it originated with the Labour Government among worthy aims, when it was designed to assist the education of the deprived and vulnerable who were truanting in disproportionate numbers. However, what is happening now is that it is harming children and families who have perfectly good reasons for being absent from school in term time.

As a teacher, one is always reluctant to see children go missing in term time – for fear of what they will miss and with questions about how one will ensure they don’t lose out on new learning. Sometimes parents will request work for the absence but what always surprised me was that when the pupils returned it was fine. They did not stand out like sore thumbs and in the grand scheme of things, they will learn somewhere whatever it was they did indeed miss.

Of course, the families who do truant and miss out on their education need the carrot and the stick to bring them back and then probably some more individualised learning.

Surely those who responsibly take their children out should be allowed to do so – I recall when parents would take offspring to Pakistan or India (totally unpolitical then) or some other kind of travel for three months or so and it was deemed educational.

Apart the issues of freedom and choice, there is the question of higher prices. We all know the ridiculous extra costs of travel in August. I’m not sure what the answer to this is however.

Lastly, for many from the UK, health-wise given our knowledge of skin cancer, August must be the most ill-advised month in which to take a prolonged holiday in the sun!

Oh well; happy holidays and make sure you take them over Easter!

Education – a Wider View

June 2014

Of Mice And men -GCSE NotesResearch this year revealed that teachers tend to lean to the left in politics. I understand why this might be true. We go into teaching to help others and because we want to impart knowledge and we want to give others both a love of learning and the best life-chances possible. In most schools, we come across deprived children and want them to do better and most of us give a lot to them.
However, where I draw the line is the blind criticism of consecutive Secretaries of State for Education whether Gillian Shepherd, David Blunkett or Estelle Morris all of whom have tried their best to improve education. Likewise, even Michael Gove: yes, he is pompous – but he is too trying to do the same, whatever people may think of other Tory policies. Some of the criticism often, in my view, amounts to pure prejudice.

The debate about GCSE Literature is a case in point. It was only recently on asking what a fifteen year old was studying for GCSE, that I was astounded to hear ‘Of Mice and Men’. I could hardly believe that the same book as I had plodded through in Peckham thirty years ago was still on the curriculum! And one could easily argue that it is rather condescending to think that those who are disadvantaged in the UK will necessarily identify with poor rural folk of the 1930s. As regards ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, I would hesitate before facing youngsters with the direct verbal racism which the book contains. To study this as someone who has chosen English ‘A’ Level Literature is a completely different matter. Actually, what I am so disappointed in examination and school literature courses is the narrowness. What we need is a really wide range of books.

At the same time, after forty years I have seen so many improvements in education, especially for children with special educational needs. Gone are days when a teacher could arrogantly say to a parent ‘I like to teach the Vikings’; and would teach it year after year, no matter that a child had studied it the previous year. And it did matter; it did affect children who needed a good education. Now it would not happen. I remember some teachers (rare, in my experience twenty years ago) who would prepare children well for secondary school and many who did not. It was as simple as that. It’s imperative to do one’s best for the pupils in one’s care. Nowadays, one is very much less likely to come across children or youngsters who really haven’t experienced attempts to teach them to read and spell, without someone wanting to know why.

This has to been due to the introduction of the National Curriculum. I believe in credit where credit’s due. I was fortunate to observe it being introduced and I shall never forget when the literacy standards and levels were being discussed, a young teacher in a deprived school chirped up, ‘Of course, that won’t apply to our children.’ Yes, the National Curriculum and the Inspection system still need reform and badly needed reform many years ago. Both sides of the argument actually need to listen to and act on some of what the other has to say.

But to return to literacy: at the same time as these improvements and reforms, some children do continue to fall through the net. Hence, the reason for this website.

Future Blogs:

  • Help for adult dyslexics
  • Good Books
  • Small schools … small classes
  • Phonic Wars
  • Exams / SATs
  • Literature at GCSE