Thursday, 15 March 2012

Sir Michael Tooshaw (of himself) and 'literacy'

This is what I wrote on the Guardian thread about Michael Willshaw's thoughts on literacy:

1. Beware all stats comparing 'literacy' across decades or from country to country. They rarely if ever compare the same thing ie they fail the 'like for like' test which is at the heart of any scientific study or conclusions.

2. It is quite possible that a percentage of people leave the various stages of schooling unable to write continuous prose, unable to fully understand an ordinary piece of continuous prose eg a sports report in a paper or a news story or whatever.
Why would this be?

3. One argument is that they need more phonics ie they didn't ever pick up those alphabetic principles which do prevail in English written language. So teach it to them. This may also be the case.

4. The problem that arises is after that or alongside that. What does a school do? What does a government do? Raising targets is really very silly. It won't help anybody to do anything better. Let's forget that.
The key thing is to look at the total literacy practices of a school and a school in relation to the school community and ask questions like: Why would or should anyone need to read in this place? What motivations do people get from this community (in school and out)? What activities go on here that inspire or encourage people (children and adults) to read beyond any 'literacy' activity going on in the teaching situation?

5. I don't see those questions being put by Ofsted when they arrive in a school. Their attentions are totally caught up with classroom organisation, school organisation and test scores. If you ask these questions properly you start to look at how the school positions itself in relation to all the many different kinds of literacy going on in contemporary culture - books, magazines, comics, sports programmes, leaflets of all kinds attached to cinemas, museums, leisure places and of course all the electronic media - phones, apps, facebook, and internet stuff in its massive variety.

6. So what does this school to do to encourage children and their parents to immerse themselves in this written language? What have successive governments done to set up book loving school communities? I have been to summoned to see successive schools ministers to talk over this very point - and Jim Rose with his now-junked reports - and the end result of several hours of face to face discussion with them all is absolutely zero. Sweet F.A. They just talk the talk.

7. I can only conclude that these people are liars. They say that they want to encourage children to read for pleasure. They know the research that shows what kind of impact this has on all children of all backgrounds - they know because I've pressed the research into their un-bloody-willing hands and yet they do nothing apart from make noises about the joys of English Literature.
I have even worked out a 20-point blueprint plan for schools to adopt, change and re-use on how to create book-loving school communities and I've pressed that into their hands. I've made a TV programme which exemplified that method....I could go on.

8. And now Willshaw and Ofsted have the barefaced cheek to talk about this matter as if schools haven't really wanted to do this or that Willshaw has just discovered this extraordinary and original idea of 'reading for pleasure'. In fact, Ofsted has been part of the problem. It's Ofsted and fearof Ofsted that have policed the SATs which have been one of the obstacles in the way of promoting reading for pleasure.

9. There is also a superb downloadable booklet produced by the NUT on 'Reading for Pleasure' written by the NUT in conjunction with author Alan Gibbons. The document to do this already exists! It has been resolutely ignored by HM Govt.

The 20-point plan is here: