Lay down your pencils and listen

AS Conor Ryan points out (TES, August 30), the national curriculum expects children to be able to listen carefully and speak clearly by the age of seven. Quite right, too. All the rest of their education is based on these abilities.

Unfortunately, an alarming number of children now arrive in nursery and reception classes with very poor listening and language skills. For children from poorer homes this is often compounded by limited experience of anything beyond four walls and the constant babble of television. It takes a lot of carefully directed play activities and structured opportunities for language and listening development to help these children develop speaking and listening skills.

However, the national tests at seven which Conor Ryan supports do not measure speaking and listening. They concentrate on pencil-and-paper work. And now that - thanks to government spin - the media recognise national test scores as the sole indicator of success, schools feel obliged to concentrate on pencil-and-paper work too, right from the beginning. Unfortunately, the national literacy strategy, by omitting speaking and listening, has colluded in this dreadful misdirection of educational energy.

Education chiefs in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have recognised these problems and are looking at ways to create a genuine early-years curriculum - one which, as in other European countries, does not insist on formal learning until children are six years old. Are their English equivalents really so witless that they cannot see what damage their tests-and-targets culture is doing?

Sue Palmer Literacy writer and inservice provider 11, St George's Road Truro, Cornwall

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