Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Nick Gibb: Meeting 2

At the end of my last meeting with the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb (see previous blog), he suggested that it would be a good idea if we had another meeting attended by as many of the present and past children's laureates in order to discuss ideas to encourage reading for pleasure.

So that's what's happening tomorrow.

Between our last meeting and this, Ofsted produced their 'Moving English Forward' report which you can read at the Ofsted website. Apart from the infuriating statement condemning schools for spending too much time preparing children for the SATs, (huh! why would that be? no prizes for correct guess) the report contained this statement:

"All schools should:
develop policies to promote reading for enjoyment throughout the school"

This is not a statement from the ministry so there's nothing official about it, but it is the first time that this particular way of putting the matter has been made from as high a level as Ofsted. As it happens, it was precisely this point that I put to the then Sec of State for Education, Ed Balls and again to the Schools Minister. Vernon Coaker ie ask schools themselves to develop these policies and that's how and why I developed a '20-point plan' for schools to adapt and use for their own purposes, a 'model letter home' for schools to adapt and use. It's why the NUT developed their really excellent 'Reading for Pleasure' booklet and resources - all available online. And it's what Alan Gibbons has been saying through the Campaign for the Book, and it's what another group of us said through a campaign we started called 'Just Read'. Some of this you can also find here at:

And of course Booktrust, the Reading Agency and the National Literacy Trust have been each banging on about this for decades, providing materials, ideas and training etc etc.

So, how should we view all this? 

Are we really reaching a moment when this 'reading for pleasure' stuff is going to be taken seriously? Or are we going to shuffle words round the page and come up with yet more worthy pamphlets? 

One thought in favour of the notion that it's serious this time: a consequence of demanding such time-consuming work purely on 'decoding' ie synthetic phonics, is that teachers and parents are starting to see more and more examples of what has been called 'barking at print'. That's to say, children who appear to be 'reading' but are in fact simply 'saying the words' or decoding out loud with not sufficient understanding of what it is they're reading. 

The only way this can be overcome is through the reading of a wide range of texts, reading often, talking about such texts, having texts read to you, having a chance to sort and browse through a wide range of texts at home, in classrooms, in school libraries, in the local library, in bookshops or wherever. 

There is no other way. 

This is confirmed by Dr Charles Hulme's research - here - which highlights the point that it's 'talk' which improves understanding of texts with Year 4 children, not more phonics work:

Clarke, P., Snowling, M., Truelove, E.  & Hulme, C.  (2010).  Ameliorating children’s reading comprehension difficulties: A randomised controlled trial.  Psychological Science, 21, 1106-1116