Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 29 Nov 2007

All children reading by six? Will teachers ever be able to make politicians understand how education really works?

Hillary's Advice

This Year One teacher is furious. She says proposing a one-size-fits-all reading benchmark takes no account of children’s differences, and that David Cameron’s latest educational ploy is only about vote-catching, not education.
I agree. Two of my three children would have failed a six-year-old reading test miserably, and gone on through school with this failure strung around their necks, even though they are both now flourishing at university.

Of course children must earn to read as soon as they are able, and it is lamentable that this does not happen. But teachers need to speak up and point out that you cannot achieve this with Whitehall-set targets, or even with wall-to-wall synthetic phonics.

What is needed is the following: an enriching, play-based pre-school experience for all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds; careful tracking by teachers of children’s early school progress; time and money being made available to help those children who have been identified as struggling; and a sophisticated deployment of this money and time to support children according to their particular needs.

We also – badly -- need the tackle this country’s traditional anti-learning culture, which lies behind so much school under-achievement, and that means getting parents and families on board too. Last week I sat in on an award-winning teacher who was leading an exemplary lesson in a much-praised state school. His teaching was the best you would find anywhere, but even so one teenage girl chose to flounce out in a self-dramatising Catherine Tait moment, never to return. Teachers and schools will only ever be able to do so much. The rest is down to the kind of society – and children -- we aim to develop.