The good news - and the bad

ONE PLUS, one minus. In a week when the Inspectorate registered disappointment with modern languages in the primary school, an early reading strategy is hailed as a great success. Clackmannan's experiment with a form of phonics promoted by psychologists at St Andrews University, has led brought remarkable results among five-year-olds. The Secretary of State is among those who gathered to acclaim it.

So far so good, but other approaches to reading have been hailed in the past, including the absurd initial teaching alphabet by which children got their own alphabet. It is no criticism of Clackmannan's enthusiasm to ask for caution and replication of the project elsewhere. Early intervention strategies are important not least because they are varied. Time will tell which have staying power.

If good news deserves a cautious response, a bad HMI report need not signal the end of the world. The Education Minister is right to ask why language teaching generally is so unsuccessful, but the primary experiment should not be condemned on evidence so far. It has been under way for only a few years. Help from specialists was withdrawn after the pilot stages. Class teachers receive only 27 hours' instruction. We need to work at early language teaching, not prematurely to deride it.

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