Yesterday I attended the panel discussion, A Good School For All at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. It was interesting, but it was also frustrating.
Nick Gibb, the Conservative MP, provided a ream of impressive figures about assessments, results etc. The discussion was wide ranging but I would like to focus on one point – reading.
Nick Gibb mentioned the government’s policy on the teaching of phonics and how reading levels have improved as a result of this policy. I agree that children need to know how to read – it is crucial, not just for English but for a whole range of subjects. However there was one phrase which failed to be mentioned by Nick Gibb and that was: ‘reading for pleasure’.
Children can leave primary school having learnt to read by decoding but they also need to learn a love of books. Some children learn a love of reading at home, but that is not available to everyone. Some children need help. Surely we don’t just want a nation of children who can read if they have to – surely we would like to see children picking up books because they want to. That is when they learn and they discover. How many studies have there been which state that children who read do better academically? And by ‘read’ these studies refer to children who pick up books and read, not children who are able to read.
So, hand in hand with teaching the mechanics of reading, I would have loved to have heard the phrase ‘reading for pleasure’ and the acknowledgement that schools need libraries and librarians and communities need libraries and librarians. That is not to say that teachers do not promote a love a reading – many do – but how much better if they were supported in this?
It isn’t coincidence that Malorie Blackman, in her event earlier in the day, and Caitlin Moran, during the panel discussion, both mentioned the impact that libraries had on their lives.