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Letters extra: Philip Pullman - lucky, not typical

Like Alan Gibbons, I would like to extend my congratulations to Philip Pullman who deserves all the literary accolades for his Dark Materials Trilogy. I do wish, though, he would stick to what he is good at or be prepared to do his research more thoroughly when it comes to the National Literacy Strategy.

First of all, he wishes to nitpick over the use of the word "quality" as an adjective - funny as my OED 1988 gives an example of it being used in a similar way. Then he continues by repeating the myth that the strategy is all about spelling and grammar and nothing to do with creativity. As a KS3 literacy consultant in an urban area, I have seen teaching which is increasingly structured, clear and focused about teaching children the art of writing. And it is an art, with its own rigour and patterns and cadences. I have no objections to Pullman's ideas of the "basics" but it works on the assumption that all children come from homes where this kind of approach will be reinforced. The attitude that spelling and grammar can just be left till the "pageproof stage" ignores the pupils who want to have those tools to be able to create with confidence.

Reading interviews with Pullman on websites helps me to understand why he can think these tools don't matter - as a child he "travelled the world by sea" and was allowed to explore the literary value of comics because he was"also reading books just as greedily". He admits, "Spelling and grammar and that kind of thing came easily to me" and that, at his "posh prep school", he was considered "arty farty". What a lucky boy - but hardly typical. He went on to Oxford and later taught in the area, including a stint at a school in one of the rougher neighbourhoods. This experience doesn't seem to have informed him about how different children learn and the effects of their background, and as he says, "I know very little about the current state of English teaching; I left the classroom 13 years ago." Strange, then, that he feels he has the right to comment on it in such an opinionated manner.

What a shame that someone who writes stories which are so wise and wonderful should be so ready to quote out of context and only look at the educational documents, rather than how this is translated into practice in real classrooms by real teachers, who, on a daily basis, inspire children with a love of the written word (sometimes using Pullman's novels to do it) and provide them with the skills to forge their own stories and texts.

This is also the man who, in one interview, states that "Heroin does you no harm". Now, I'm in favour of a bit of "mystery, chance and silence", myself, but I think it's only fair to kids that the real world gets a look in, too.

Sian Davies
26 Thomas Street
St Pauls
Bristol
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