Monday 18 June 2012

My last replies to Tim Oates's letter

Tim Oates's reply
My final responses.

re my point 5 asking for evidence for:

. the idea that SSP applied 'first, fast and only' achieves higher levels of 'reading for meaning' by Years 5 and 6 than methods  using phonics  in conjunction with other methods. According to Sue Ellis of Strathclyde University, the SSP first, fast and only children are coming through achieving lower results for 'reading with meaning'.

What is crucial here is that I asked for evidence for 'first, fast and only' administering of phonics teaching. This is the process by which the only texts in class at this point are 'decodable ones, ones that are on one of the approved schemes, the bestselling one of which is Ruth Miskin's 'Read, Write Inc.' Ruth Miskin is also an adviser to the government on literacy. 

I don't see any answer to this point in Tim Oates's letter. 

That's to say there is plenty on the need for phonemic awareness. However, that's not the question I asked. I asked for evidence for 'first, fast and only' application of phonics. As far as I know there is no evidence to show that produces better results for 'reading for meaning' by the time the children get to Key Stage 2 (years 3-6, ie aged 7-11). 

No matter what the preamble says - which Tim Oates reminds us does talk about reading for enjoyment -  the hard sell is for phonics, and clearly makes no mention of children looking at books by themselves in Year 1. Ruth Miskin's courses in phonics make a point of not including non-decodable texts while children are doing 'first, fast and only'. 

Any management team looking at ReadWriteInc, and the Draft Curriculum could only reasonably conclude that this means eliminating ordinary picture books from Reception and Year 1 classes other than the ones that the teacher reads from TO the children.

Tim Oates has not answered this criticism in any way.

Finally my point 2 was as follows:

I asked for evidence for:
 the idea that primary children doing this kind of grammar helps them with writing or indeed any evidence that they understand it.

Once again, Tim Oates gives none. The key issue here is 'primary children'. I'm 100% in favour of teaching grammar in secondary schools. I insist there is no evidence that this helps children write. I believe that it's a reasonable and interesting subject to teach because language is one of the most important parts of human behaviour and grammar underpins how that behaviour is patterned.

I repeat there is no evidence that teaching grammar to primary age children either helps with writing or is understood by more than a handful of children. There is a very good reason for this as I've explained in earlier blogs: it's essentially a highly abstract set of concepts, full of exceptions most of which have no logical explanation. Children are immersed in language as a system that appears to 'refer'. Grammar considers language as a system at least in part separate from this referring function. That's what's difficult about it. 


All in all, I don't think Tim Oates has defended the curriculum very satisfactorily at all. He hasn't provided evidence for the real matters I asked for evidence for and he has misunderstood how this Curriculum will be enacted. 

I believe the issue of authorship of the Curriculum is a scandal. It seems to me to be outrageous that a document claiming to offer authority and wisdom on behalf of children, to be delivered by the country's teachers is veiled in secrecy and obscurity.

I guess some people reading this will wonder if I have some kind of secret info on who was in the various teams who cooked up this mess. No, I have no idea. Others might wonder (as I do) if Michael Gove intervened directly and inserted anything of his own. Once again, I have no idea. Not a clue. I'm sorry that I don't. I believe that parents, teachers, advisers and inspectors are entitled to know. This is a matter of public concern. I believe that some people have applied through the FOI Act to find out. I hope so. 

So, it's all very well for Tim Oates in his letter jumping down Andrew Pollard's throat to correct him over Andrew's suspicion that Tim could be one of the authors, but the fact remains: we don't know, we should know, and in the meantime, Tim and others will just have to put up with our suspicions.