Chris McGovern: The wasted years when phonics was a four-letter word

Reading standards in English primary schools appear to be improving. The five-yearly Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2016 places our nine- to ten-year-olds in joint eighth position amongst 50 countries. This is up from tenth in 2011 and 15th in 2006. At this rate of progress we could soon be back to where we were in 2001 when we came third. That was the year when this particular version of cyclical testing started and it was before Tony Blair’s ‘Education, Education, Education’ policies began to have their full, degrading impact on standards.

The recent improvement follows the restoration of the systematic teaching of phonics for infants (‘synthetic phonics’). As Education Secretary, Michael Gove made this strategy a foundation stone of his revised National Curriculum. A Phonics Screening Check for six-year-olds now backs it up. Only 58 per cent passed when it was introduced in 2012. This year the pass rate rose to 81 per cent. Credit where credit is due – things are moving in the right direction on the literacy front.

What remains shameful, however, is that it took successive governments so long to recognise the centrality of phonics to teaching literacy. Thirty years ago, Martin Turner, an educational psychologist working for Croydon local authority, was sacked for reporting a decline in reading standards. He blamed the decline on the demise of phonics in favour of what was, then, a fashionable new approach known as ‘look and say’ or ‘real books’.

It was based on children having to recognise the shape of whole words rather than decoding their phonic components. This meant that a child might be able to read the word ‘hippopotamus’ but not ‘his’, ‘hot’ or ‘have’! ‘Real books’ could be read by learning to recognise the words in the book, but children were not provided with a phonics strategy for reading unknown or unremembered vocabulary.

Turner’s evidence alone made it blindingly obvious that he was right and that the ‘experts’ were wrong. His case was well publicised and he received support on the margins of the education debate, but this did not save him. He lost his livelihood.

Support for phonics survived, especially in the private sector, but only just. In effect, new teachers were trained to promote illiteracy rather than literacy. Small wonder that have we slipped into mid-table mediocrity on the OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests for 15-year-olds. The educational establishment promoted ‘look and say’ with a passion that became more intolerant the more it led to failure. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, it is still defended by many in ‘the Blob’.

The latest reading results have been achieved in the face of this opposition. Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Extraordinarily – despite all the evidence in favour of phonics – we faced opposition from various lobby groups: those opposed to testing; professors of education who had built a career out of the “look and say” approach, and the teaching unions.’

The minister has good reason to feel pleased, but he should not get too carried away with this chink of light in the educational darkness brought about by the Blob. It takes a couple of decades, at least, before educational improvement at primary school level impacts on a country’s economy.



He should also note that grammar school provision at secondary level in Northern Ireland seems to have had a positive effect on standards in its primary schools. The National Foundation for Educational Research administered the recent literacy tests and pointed out that ‘England’s performance . . . remained significantly below Northern Ireland’s [6th].’ This parallels equivalent tests (TIMMS) last year that placed Northern Ireland as the best-performing European country for primary school mathematics and sixth in the world.

The literacy test results for ten-year-olds should not be taken as proof of an educational renaissance in England, as the minister would have us believe.

Mr Gibb wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘They also reflect the raising of standards in schools more generally. This summer, secondary schools took the new, more demanding, GCSEs in English and maths, and despite claims that a fresh focus on core academic subjects would worsen outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers has shrunk by 7 per cent since 2011.’

Such comment is disingenuous since he, of all people, is aware that, at the behest of the Blob, ‘the new, more demanding GCSEs’ had the ‘good pass’ bar placed as low as 15 per cent, with 25 per cent extra time for those one in six candidates who claimed to have special needs.

The educational establishment may have suffered a setback over phonics but, along the way, it has condemned too many children to illiteracy, and it remains a formidable barrier to progress. It is time it was held to account.

Chris McGovern

  • martianonlooker

    Shhh! Don’t shout too loudly about improvements in English reading. Otherwise that shilpit Sturgeon will be wanting extra dosh to rectify her disasters in education.

    • paul parmenter

      Shilpit? I bet that is one the “look and say” group would have great trouble with. Except of course it comes next to the word “Sturgeon”, which would give them a clue.

  • JabbaPapa

    My dad used “synthetic phonics” to teach me how to read & write back in 1968, when I was 3.

    Took him three lessons over four days (remember them still, it was a Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday), then he told me OK, now you’ve got the basics & the rest is up to you.

    The mistresses at nursery school were not impressed when I took the the letter cubes they were using “to familiarise us with the shape of the letters” and ordered them into a phrase along the lines of “these cubes are silly” (still annoyed I’ve forgotten exactly what it is I wrote).

    I do remember that I spent my time in reading class at Primary school going systematically through the entire library of children’s books that they had, and that most of the books were really, really bad, but that they were also a very good source for learning new vocabulary or simply how some of the longer words are spelt.

    • JabbaPapa

      The amazing thing about his teaching approach is that he didn’t just teach me, he did everything he could to to tell me how he was teaching me so that I could understand, best I could, the purposes of the lessons from his point of view, why the lessons needed to proceed in a certain order, and it was extraordinarily helpful to me to both understand and accept the contents of the lessons that he gave that we were both of us constrained by the necessities of the subject matter.

      Of course I didn’t actually think that at the time, that’s simply my attempt at a description of the far more intuitive impression that the lessons gave me at the time.

      • CRSM

        You were a very lucky child.

    • 39 Pontiac Dream

      I learned to read through the basic alphabet phonetics, progressing to whole words by establishing simple phonetic components. Phonetics didn’t always apply especially when it came to silent letters but that’s just something you picked up as you improved. By the age of 5, I was reading Dickens and I moved on to more challenging books when I was 6/7. If I’d have gone through the wholly patronising ‘look and tell’ method, I reckon I’d have been struggling with ‘Run Spot Run’ at 11.
      When I was growing up, we were encouraged to read by our teachers and parents. In today’s world of technology at our fingertips, I imagine that’s not the case anymore. Considering the fact that I cannot understand half of what comes out of the average teenagers mouth nowadays, I dread to think what new techniques will be borne to the next generation. As long as teaching tools like look and say exist, we’ll find ourselves slipping down education attainment tables year upon year.

      • JabbaPapa

        My love for literature developed later than yours, and for personal history reasons as well as ones of temperament, I gravitated more towards languages and encyclopaedias, so that it took the discovery of Tolkien when I was older to set me back on the better track … :o)

        My utter disgust of children’s literature generally — withstanding the luminous exceptions of the masterpieces of the genre, Alice, Le Petit Prince, the imperfect A. A. Milne and Joanne Rowling, Enid Blyton in her rare moments of sheer genius, and et cetera — comes from a horror of its didacticism and the “educational value” that it was supposed to provide us with. The contemporary French author and brilliant teacher of children Daniel Pennac has written marvelously of the need to engage children with the written word via good, healthy, simple jolly old fun.

        Fun is Enid Blyton’s basic redeeming feature, as not even a small child could take seriously the preposterous adventures of the Famous Five !!

        I was an avid client of the Library though, and I can remember (among the dozens of eminently forgettable volumes of dross that I came across) reading the equally preposterous Doctor Dolittle series of novels with genuine pleasure.

      • CRSM

        We still have plenty of people, even on this site, who write “couldn’t of” instead of the correct form. I still don’t understand why they do this, the construction is meaningless.

        • Woman at home

          Completely meaningless but very, very common.
          Proper speech used to be taught in school alongside phonics. Shame Michael Gove didn’t manage to get that reinstated too.

          • CRSM

            I realise that people are (correctly) saying couldn’t’ve as a truncation of couldn’t have, but why write it as “of”? It seems such a simple thing to understand.

        • a misplaced modifier

          I have often heard ‘could of/would of/should of’ in speech but rarely written as such — and not in these pages. I accept my memory might not be what it was, but I’m sure the mods would have picked up anything of this sort.

          • CRSM

            Of course “could’ve” can sound like “could of”, except when written down, one makes sense, the other doesn’t.
            I am fairly certain I’ve seen it here, but it is the norm on the well-known, scurrilous web-site named after a Nov 5th ne’er do well.

          • William

            Most, including me, have buggered off to Going Postal (https://going-postal.com/). Don’t bother commenting there, nobody reads them.

      • Little Black Censored

        Your comment contains the useful reminder that children need to learn not only to read but also to speak. Listening to a crowd of schoolchildren on a bus is “an education”.

  • Owen_Morgan

    I remember when Martin Turner took part in a documentary, along with a champion of the “real books” approach. I don’t recall that the two were ever put in a room together, but each was sent to a school to see the rival teaching method. I think the Blob Monster went to a primary in Suffolk and Turner possibly to somewhere in Manchester.

    In Suffolk, the commonsense teacher was using phonics and had a room full of children who could read. In the other school, Martin Turner toured the classrooms, getting more and more depressed, until he found one where the children were alert and learning. The reason was that the teacher there was new. Nobody had told her not to use phonics, so she thought that was the obviously right approach.

    Back in Suffolk, the man from the Blob played his trump card; he brought out a stack of ‘real books” and handed them out. When the children avidly devoured them, he triumphantly proclaimed that as proof of the superiority of his method. The teacher responded that it was no surprise that the children liked books, since they could all read them, but the Bloboid was having none of that. He ended up commenting darkly about how angry those children would be, once they realised how they had been betrayed. Since his educational theory had so comprehensively been shown to be vacuous nonsense, I thought his reaction was not just dogmatic, but actually evil.

    It would have been a few years after that when I was asked to babysit a niece, part of which involved having her read her (hideously PC) primary school book to me. Now, I am pretty sure that M could read reasonably well before she started school, but I got the strong impression that the school was using the “real books” method. M seemed to know the book off by heart, for one thing. It was copiously illustrated, allowing the reader to guess the text from the pictures. A few times, the text contained the word “kid” (as in “baby goat”). Each time, M read the word as “goat”.

    I was pretty shocked to realise that, despite all the evidence, already abundant by then, of the uselessness of the “real books” approach, it was still being applied in schools.

    • Little Black Censored

      Some of these professional people will never give in; they may concede that we need to use “a combination of methods”. No we don’t; time spent instruction using other methods is time that might be better spent.

      • Royinsouthwest

        By “a combination of methods” they probably mean “90% of the time using my method and 10% doing whatever you want if the children are not bored stiff by then.”

      • William

        So-called professional – there, fify.

  • Owen_Morgan

    Quite a quite a long time ago, somebody demolished the “real books” method, by comparing it to learning Japanese. That’s not something I have ever attempted, but the writer explained that, what with the Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana symbols, Japanese contained 2400, or thereabouts, in total. The human brain can’t assimilate that many symbols. Nobody in Japan can know every symbol used to write the language and Japanese schoolchildren are not taught them all.

    English contains far more than 2400 words, so learning to read by recognising words can lead, at best, to a very limited reading vocabulary, one which cannot really contribute at all to proficiency in writing. After all, if each word is learnt effectively as a symbol, rather than as a sequence of letters (26 in the English alphabet) representing phonetic sounds (40 in English),
    “his”, “His” and “HIS” are one word, but three symbols. Anyone who tries to learn to read English by memorising whole words will very quickly exhaust his or her capacity to accommodate new words.

    It’s true that English spelling is quirky, e.g. “tough”, “though”, “through”, “thought”, “cough”, “bough”. With only forty sounds in total, though, it makes infinitely more sense to teach those via the alphabet, than to present each new word as a unique challenge.

    • JabbaPapa

      The human brain can’t assimilate that many symbols

      Well, this isn’t actually true — but certainly the vast majority of Japanese people would have neither the desire nor the need to engage in any genuinely scholarly mastery of their own written language.

      Have to add though, written languages using a syllabary rather than an alphabet are pretty effective too, though I believe that the alphabetic system has been demonstrated comparatively as a bit more effective, practically and cognitively.

      • Owen_Morgan

        It’s the Kanji part that complicates Japanese. With the way Japanese is pronounced, syllabaries make sense and I don’t suppose Japanese schoolchildren struggle with those at all.

        I take your point about “scholarly mastery’, but, in the context of English, it’s basic mastery with which we are concerned and I don’t think we disagree about that. Properly taught, British schoolchildren should be able to read any word in the language, even if understanding it requires a trip to the dictionary – and how does a product of the “real books” ideology begin to navigate a dictionary?

        • CRSM

          That’s a good point!

        • Little Black Censored

          Quite right. And we don’t need to have been taught by a brilliant teacher. The traditional method has been used since time immemorial by parents and grandparents and teachers of all levels of ability.

      • CRSM

        It has always seemed strange to me that there are languages where the written characters bear no relation to the spoken sound!

    • Little Black Censored

      On another website I was fiercely denounced by an English specialist for saying that English is a phonetic language and is most efficiently learnt as such. He said the old method of “barking at print” was entirely discredited.

      • Paul Robson

        These are education consultants.

        Consultant is a modern word constructed from “Con artist” and “Insult”

        • CRSM

          I’ll remember that!

      • Royinsouthwest

        Perhaps the “English specialist” should be asked if he thinks it would be better if the Phoenicians had never invented their alphabet and everyone throughout the world had to learn to read and write using a system of ideograms like the Chinese do.

    • therealguyfaux ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

      Fortunately, not so many words in English are pronounced SO counterintuitively from their spellings that those cannot be memorised the way Japanese need to memorise their pictograph words as opposed to their phonetically spelt words. But one is put in mind of Mr. Bottomley calling upon Lord Cholmondeley and referring to him as “Choll-MON-duh-lee” and being informed by the butler, “It’s ‘Chumley,’ Mr. Bottomley,” and the caller telling him, “It’s ‘Bumley,’ Jeeves…”

  • John Thomas

    I think it would have been very useful if Chris had started his article with a very simple, but succinct, definition (for the ignorant, such as me) of what, exactly, “phonics” is. I think I began to get it, by the end… but can’t be certain. I suspect Chris is too close to his subject to realise that some of us are very hazy; this often happens.

    • JabbaPapa

      c > a > t : cat … b > a > t : bat … h > a > t : hat

      And so on.

      • Bik Byro

        t>w>a>t : JabbaPapa

      • CRSM

        Quite. I know it doesn’t work all the time, but it works for most of the words that a young child will see when starting to learn to read.

      • John Thomas

        Ah! I remember now …

  • Granuaile

    More than 50 years ago I was in University in Dublin with a fellow-student and friend who had been a primary school teacher in England before opting for a science degree as a mature student. One day, whilst chatting to some fellow-students about her previous work she stated that the way reading was taught was by holding up a cards with words on them and getting the children to recognize the whole word. We refused to believe her, and thought this was some elaborate and rather strange joke. When she finally managed to convince us she was telling the truth we were flabbergasted, as all of us had been taught “phonics” (although it didn’t have a name then) from age five and the “look and say” method seemed to be illogical and perverse.

    This shows that the ‘look and say” method has been entrenched for generations in England, and perhaps partly explains its persistence, as very few people have had experience of phonics, so it seems “new” and untested.

    All I can vouch for is that 64 years ago it made me a confident reader long before I left my kindergarten school. In particular I remember being able to decode previously unmet words using the techniques I had been taught.

    • CRSM

      OK, I have tried to reply twice now to this, and neither have got past the censor. I have no idea why at all!

      • Little Black Censored

        Probably the censor never learnt to read properly and thought you were saying something rude.

        • CRSM

          Probably for referring to the child pupil as he (oblique) she.

          • CRSM

            Yes that is what it was. Oh brave new world that has such morons in it!

    • Simon Platt

      It’s not true that very few people have had experience of phonics in England. I was taught that way at my primary school in the 70s, as was my wife in hers in a different town. Our children were taught that way in two different primary schools in the 90s and 00s. Until recently I wasn’t aware there was another way, and was rather taken aback a few weeks ago to read an article by a young man in the Telegraph who didn’t understand this c-a-t business his infant daughter was learning at school, because he’d never come across it before.

      Things must vary a lot form place to place. Or perhaps something weird happened between 1975 and 1995.

  • I taught my daughter read in both French and English. started with phonics, went on to the see and say, then back to phonics. The latter is clearly the better method, but she likes to understand a story not just words. Going back and forth satisfied her desire to read a book by herself and the former gave her the tools to develop her capacity to actually read.
    I’ll be going back and forth with my youngest too. But this can be done one on one with a child. Phonics was always going to be superior in a school setting.

  • Ravenscar

    / “professors of education who had built a career out of the “look and say” approach, and the teaching unions.’ “/

    I used to laugh, guffaw when I was a kid at the old joke concerning explaining stuff to foreigners in strange lands, “just speak slowly and clearly – they’ll get the gist” see how that’d go up in Mongolia…………….and then as if by magic mushrooms, some left wing professors came up with a similar lunacy in an attempt to totally scunner our kids……………

    ‘those doctrinaire cultural Marxist and anti phonics crew’ – they needed to locked up.

    • William

      I thought you had to just speak slowly and clearly and SHOUT!

      • Ravenscar

        ;O)!

  • Bik Byro

    And this is why I have little sympathy for teachers. But to be honest, teaching your kid to read is a PARENT’S job.
    You can’t spend every night with your feet up in front of X Factor and a glass of Chardonnay and every weekend on the XBox and then moan that the teachers didn’t teach your kid to read properly.

    • a misplaced modifier

      My mother-in-law taught my daughter to read when she was with us one summer from a simple book called ‘I help in the Garden’.

      When my daughter went on to nursery school — this was in the mid-70s — she won a reader’s certificate while in the admissions year — and she was by no means an exceptionally gifted child. It was quite simply the work my mother-in-law decided to take on.

      • PiqueABoo

        Mine went to the Nursery class not long after her 3rd birthday in 2006. IIRC by that point she could comfortably count, add or subtract a bit, had read Green Eggs & Ham (via the amateur parental phonics I got as a child) in one epic session.

        Could also write a little. One day waiting to collect from Nursery I was gravely summoned by teacher because daughter and a boy had written on the classroom wall. Ignoring some mirrored letters, it was words and more than just their names. Took heroic restraint not to laugh, but did that afterwards with daughter on the walk home.

        I don’t think ‘work’ is the right word. All of that at-home stuff, just a small fraction of what happened, was indistuingishable from ‘play’. Just another thing we did with the child alongside things like sorting out a teddy-bear picnic or making a snowman. A lot of their play is taught to them. This matters because the critical line is that anything like this is “cruel, formal, Gradgrindian … they should be playing at that age”. Well my child was playing, it just happened to be with numbers sometimes etc.

        • CRSM

          Once someone realises that learning can actually be fun, then it’s likely that they will keep learning things all their life. I am in a profession that is fast-changing, so I have had to learn new things all the time. It is not only useful, it should be enjoyable!

        • a misplaced modifier

          Mil’s work was to make my daughter’s reading as easy and pleasant as possible. That doesn’t stop it being a task, i.e work, even though she took it on willingly and voluntarily.

          Work isn’t a dirty word and it doesn’t exclude the possibility of enjoyment.

  • Reform_the_NHS

    While supporting the general thrust of this article that phonics might be best for most children, it is not necessarily true for all. I think phonics actually set my son back, as he was able to memorise words more easily (pretty instantaneously, in fact), but was forced down the phonics route. And my wife has told me that other strategies are needed for the least bright children in her class, who arrive in Year 4 unable to read words such as ‘cat’ – but the PC school managers refuse to accept that different teaching methods are required, demanding that children who clearly have inherited low intelligence and have lost out to fashionable (non-)’teaching’ in the EYFS continue with phonics.

    Moreover, there is no doubt that phonics has a negative impact on spelling.

    A bit more focus on the individual child’s preferred learning ‘strategy’ (forgive the jargon) would be a good idea, although I accept that, with all the stuff crammed into the school day (what IS the point of ‘PSHE’?!), this would make life more challenging for teachers.

    • Little Black Censored

      “…there is no doubt that phonics has a negative impact on spelling.”</i.
      Is there any evidence for that?

      • Woman at home

        What utter rot.

      • JabbaPapa

        An outright lie.

      • William

        Are you sure there are two Ls in spelling?

    • Paul Robson

      Flexibility. My son picked up a library book on the Space Race when he was about 7 and had a jolly good crack at words like “Cosmonaut” “Gargarin” and the like. Meanwhile, because everyone has to do it, he was stuck on “Biff is happy. Kipper is happy. Daddy is fed up” (which he read as fast as he could turn the pages).

      Had another row over, would you believe, lined paper. Son could write and content was good, but he had problems writing in a straight line. I suggested (duh) trying lined paper to give him something to aim at. Can’t do that. Why not ? Because …. we can’t

    • Simon Platt

      I doubt that phonics has a negative impact on spelling. Care to elaborate?

      • Reform_the_NHS

        Yes. Kids who are taught phonics try to spell phonetically, which of course works fine for some words, but not for many. Even when taught the correct spelling, they seem to revert to a phonetic version.

        Maybe this helps explain why my younger colleagues can’t spell for toffee?!

        • Simon Platt

          I’m sure we’ve all seen misspellings of that kind.

    • Nephthys

      The teaching of phonics is consistent with what we’ve discovered from testing memory. It reflects the categorical branched nature of memory which explains why some mnemonic techniques better than others, for instance, why stories works better than lists. Most people simply don’t have the cognitive load to brute force every single word. I don’t.

      Please understand that there is no profile of student who benefits from “look-say” or “whole word” vandalism. It’s especially harmful to dyslexics. You’re not championing the cause of the disadvantaged because it is exactly the most intelligent children who can best endure inefficient methods like “whole words”. You’ve got the problem backwards.

      http://www.dyslexics.org.uk/main_method.htm

      Phonics is not phonemic spelling. At the heart of it is the law that in English there are a finite number of ways in which a syllable can be spelt. Phonics is in the learning of these frequencies and getting children to internalise them. It’s both simpler, on teacher and learner, and less stressful for those with learning difficulties.

      If you want to poke ideology, “whole language” is a reflex of mid 20th century poststructuralism the fashionable prejudice that there are no natural orders nor hierarchies to anything. Not gender, not grammar, not language, not memory. Synthetic phonics, which dominated before, was regarded as some aberrant imposition by the system.

  • Ed McA

    You make reading sound difficult and yet an elderly friend of mine would frequently state that, ”In my day even the ”thickest” could read, write and be competent in arithmetic when they left school”. In those days, as I believe still utilised in many Northern Ireland primaries, it was mandatory to have spelling books and multiplication tables to be the basis of homework each evening and note, back then, many/most left school aged 14 or 16.
    Interestingly, you mention how Northern Ireland is placed high in world rankings in both spelling and mathematics and they still retain the 11+ and grammar schools but are you also aware that their GCSE and ‘A’ level results consistently rank above England?
    Phonics, to my mind, appear to make reading more complicated when our family, including children, learned by building from simple words and syllables to more complex words and this appears to me to be more logical.
    Anyhow, the fact that England is improving is a miracle when you consider the high percentage of poor parenting in the land and in how they rarely/never read to their offspring.

    • Paul Robson

      We have this mentality that you don’t need to know your times tables, we have calculators, now expanding to you don’t need to know anything much, we have google etc. so lets all just concentrate on feelz.

      Which is and always will be cr*p

      • William

        Today’s yoof are very lucky they only have decimal currency to deal with.

    • JabbaPapa

      Phonics, to my mind, appear to make reading more complicated when our family, including children, learned by building from simple words and syllables to more complex words and this appears to me to be more logical.

      That’s basically just the second part of the synthetic phonics system after basic literacy has been learnt.

  • PiqueABoo

    Few objection to article, but it’s unclear what Chris McG. wants re. the penultimate paragraph.

    There is an ability bell-curve and we clearly haven’t experienced any 21st century step-change in average intelligence. With a lot of smoke and mirrors, the system has moved a grade C (now grade 4-ish) from the 80th percentile all the way down to the 40th. From the minimum expected of the top 20%, to the minimum expected of the top 60%. The quite common lie/delusion is that the GCSE grade means the same thing now that it used to when it was an O-level. For more perspective the 40th percentile was where a CSE grade 5 used to sit.

    What I would like here is akin to that recent period when there were optional level 6 primary SATs. The level 6 paper had lots of mostly level 6 questions, but a level 6 pass depended on passing both that paper *and* achieving a level 5 in the standard SAT paper (getting overwhelming majority right).

    What I’m told happens is that many children who ought to be taking the GCSE Foundation tier maths paper are entered for the Higher tier instead and drilled on the small subset of questions, the 15%, that gets them their grade C (4-ish). That is apparently a more effective route to the grade described as a ‘life-chance’, getting them to achieve a much higher percentage of correct answers from a broader range of topics on the easier Foundation tier paper.

  • Woman at home

    Three cheers for Michael Gove on this one.
    I did note that May quoted the improvement at PMQ today, but failed to give Gove any credit for it.

  • Sargv

    > The five-yearly Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2016 places our nine- to ten-year-olds in joint eighth position amongst 50 countries. This is up from tenth in 2011 and 15th in 2006.

    Ah, another benefit of immigration! I guess the rapid improvement is due to an influx of Polish children to British schools over the last decade. 2007 was a year when Poland joined the EU, after all. Damn, those guys are smart!

    Jokes aside, my son was the only white kid at a spelling bee competition that local library ran at our (80%+ white British, but not very affluent) neighbourhood. And he is Russian. He came second to an Indian girl.

  • I have sympathy for those candidates who have ‘special needs’ but it is illogical to give them privileges when it comes to exams.
    A potential employer wants to use exam results to compare candidates for a job, as will a university. I can imagine the reaction of an employer should an employee claim ‘special needs’ and requires 25% extra time (paid, of course) for doing the job.
    Yes, those with ‘special needs’ should be given employment if possible, but not on the basis of fake exam results.
    I’m also mystified that one in six of our children now have ‘special needs’. If it’s that high a percentage, surely there is nothing special about their needs and they are within the normal range of abilities of people of the same age. Such a high figure minimises the problems of those with genuine special needs, and shouldn’t include those who are just slower at learning that average.

    • Royinsouthwest

      A cynic might say that attention deficit disorder and dyslexia are useful excuses for schools that fail to educate a significant proportion of their pupils properly. When I was at school teachers made it perfectly clear that we were expected to pay attention to what went on in the class. Some pupils, usually boys, paid less attention than others but they knew perfectly well that there were limits to what they could get away with.

      • My 7 year old grandson was accused of not paying attention in class, I’ve no doubt if he’d stayed at the school, my daughter would have been told he has attention deficit disorder.
        In fact he was totally bored; his parents decided to send him to an Independent School and he came home after a few days saying that it was great, he had something to do all the time. His reading improved in steps and bounds and now he actually wants to read.
        We are told mixed-ability classes are good, but it is clear that the teachers can’t cope.

      • Simon Platt

        Call me a cynic…

      • JabbaPapa

        There are various different forms of dyslexia — one of them is the end result of the “look and say” method.

    • Simon Platt

      Spot on.

      Universities also offer 25% extra time to those with “special needs”, however. It’s a Bad Thing, also for the students who “benefit”.

      You remind me of an advertisement I saw on a bus shelter a few years ago, for a charity supporting people with a syndrome I’d heard of, the name of which I can’t now remember. I’d heard of this syndrome because one of my then students apparently had it; it was on his “special needs” assessment. He didn’t get extra time in exams for this (he did for his “dyslexia”), but he was allowed to wear gloves. You see, the syndrome was something to do with poor circulation that made the extremities cold.

      Back to the bus stop. The advert was striking: hands with fingers pointing down, turning to icicles. I had time to ponder it as I walked along straight street towards it on my way home. “Oh”, I thought, “that’s what N has”. Raising awareness, they were. Awareness, and money.

      But then I saw that the advert said “X million people in the country have our syndrome”. X was a rather large number which I can’t now remember. I thought “Oh. I have cold hands. People often say so when I shake theirs. Few people have colder hands than I have. Mine must be two of the 2X million coldest hands in the country. They should be paying me. I shan’t be paying them.”

      And I’ve forgotten all about it, since. Obviously.

  • David Woolf

    Yes, thank Heavens.
    My own school – tiny village primary in Suffolk – was damned with OFSTED’s judgement as “satisfactory” + weaknesses inevitably.
    But we did not, ever, discharge a child to Middle School or elsewhere who was not fully literate, fully numerate and possessing the full armoury of courteousness. That includes those children branded “special needs”.

    The Inspectors who judged my school did so from the standpoint of “creativity, indivduality (sic)…” I quote.

    In my efforts to ‘keep under the radar’, my standard test results (reading, arithmetic) submitted to the county, were sequestrated – I reduced them in order to avoid attention, every year.

    Not a single child ever left S…. School without having the rightful, and full education that Matthew Arnold demanded of us all.

    I was sacked of course, in the end; on a technicality via a vis the school budget.

    • JabbaPapa

      Well done for as long as it lasted, and shame on these OFSTED nincompoops !!

  • Gloria Hole

    ….