Pullman reviles literacy scheme as horror story

Teachers should encourage their pupils to cheat to survive the horrors of government diktat on literacy teaching, Philip Pullman, the Whitbread prize-winning novelist, says today in The TES.

Pullman, gets his critical teeth into the national literacy strategy sections on reading for key stages 1 to 3. They are, he argues, "half-baked drivel slapped down in front of us, like greasy food on a dirty plate brought to us by a drunken waiter".

Pullman, who recently won the Whitbread Book of the Year award for The Amber Spyglass, the final volume in his fantasy adventure trilogy, His Dark Materials, was once a teacher trainer at Westminster College. He describes recently being asked for tips by a teacher preparing her class for key stage 2 tests. "They had to plan a story for 15 minutes and write it for the remaining 45. Did I have any advice?

"After flinching in horror, I advised her to tell the pupils to write the story first and make the plan afterwards, so that the plan and the story would match and they'd get a better mark. In other words, cheat.

"But in a system that has nothing to do with real education, nothing to do with a true, wise, open, rich response to literature, but everything to do with meeting targets and measuring performance levels, then the only way for honest people to survive is to cheat and do so with a clear conscience."

Pullman argues that teachers who want to improve their pupils' reading and writing should spend less time worrying about spelling and grammar. The literacy strategy should foster "three basic qualities I'd like to see teachers free to invoke in the classroom: mystery, chance and silence."

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