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Slowing down is not the way

I was shocked to find that your paper had joined the broadsheets in spreading the untruth that around a quarter of pupils leave primary school unable to read and write proficiently (Primary Forum, TES, March 11).

Jill Parkin should know that the vast majority of those who fail to attain a level 4 in their key stage 2 Sats do achieve a level 3.

To do so, children must demonstrate that they can "read a range of texts fluently and accurately" and that their writing "is often organised, imaginative and clear", with the features of various forms used appropriately, the beginnings of adaptation for a variety of readers, sequences of sentences that extend ideas logically, and words chosen for variety and interest.

Accuracy in punctuation and spelling also feature. All these add up to a degree of proficiency.

Ms Parkin made some telling criticisms of recent primary literacy teaching, particularly of the heavy focus - determined by the strategies - on the bits and pieces of language at the expense of stories and poems that interest and inspire.

But she might have written a more useful piece had she recognised that primary pupils now compare with the best in terms of competence.

In the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) of nine and 10-year-olds, only the mean scores of children in Holland and Sweden were better than those for pupils in England. In terms of attitude, however, children in England were near the bottom of the 35 countries involved.

Taking things more slowly - in line with the recommendation of Ms Parkin - won't help. Focusing on reading and writing whole texts for real purposes - as many of the more successful schools already do - seems more likely to help us put pleasure back into the process.

Henrietta Dombey

Professor emeritus Literacy in Primary Education

University of Brighton

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