Champagne with Jane Austen is a patronising mix

THE inability of Christine Rice to understand the nature of baseline assessment in literacy (Letters, August 30) is matched only by her ability to patronise children from socially disadvantaged areas.

Regarding the first, good baseline assessment will include a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar words. More importantly, it will have a high enough ceiling to ensure that even the brightest child will be too stretched to pass every item. Therefore, although most of the four to six-year-old pupils in West Dunbartonshire will not encounter the words she is ridiculing, the scheme has the capacity to test right up to adult reading level.

Regarding the second point, perhaps Ms Rice does not feel that children from poorer areas should grow up to be like the intelligent adults who read this paper, and who are able with ease to read all of the words she finds so inappropriate. Maybe they should not be aspiring to move in the kinds of circles where words such as physician, fatigue and melodrama are common terminology, or to think that something as esoteric as Champagne could ever have any meaning for them.

According to Ms Rice, the words at the top end of the reading test would be suitable for people who might read Jane Austen. This is heartening, and I am sure it is exactly what the secondary English teachers will be hoping for - that they have children passed on to them who will aspire to read this and any other great literature. Or maybe this is only for the "more refined circles" in which West Dunbartonshire children are not expected to move.

Perhaps it is not the reading test that will "alienate" children, but the attitudes that would deem its words unsuitable for them.

Tommy MacKay

Psychology Consultancy Services

Cardross

Dunbartonshire

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