Children denied reading pleasure

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Children are being turned off books because schools feel compelled to teach them in extracts, says a literacy expert.

"It's the worst thing that's happened in English in the past 10 years,"

said Anne Barnes, education officer of the National Literacy Association.

"Children are being denied the pleasures of reading."

The national literacy and key stage 3 strategies encourage the view that comprehension skills are more important than reading for pleasure, she said. This is then reinforced by reductive exam syllabuses and pressure to get results.

"One of the great pleasures of teaching is when you have a whole class enjoying a novel at once," said Ms Barnes. "It's not happening now, even in primary schools. You never get the whole room reaching a cliffhanger, desperate to find out what's happening next. There's no time for that."

Ms Barnes's comments come after Anthony Farrell, the head of English at St Ives school in Cornwall, and David Jesson, of York university, said pupils could now go through secondary school without reading a book completely.

A senior examiner backed their comments, saying that Years 9 to 11 were now dominated by tests to the extent that some schools would get pupils to write GCSE coursework on the first chapter of Great Expectations and leave it at that.

However, in Years 7 and 8, many schools were enthusiastically embracing books such as Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. The framework for teaching English says Year 7 and 8 pupils should be reading novels alongside many other activities.

At GCSE, the AQA's main English literature course assigns 10 per cent of the marks to an assignment on a pre-1914 prose work and 35 per cent to an exam question on a novel or a collection of short stories. Teachers say it is possible to do well by reading only the short stories and book extracts.

A QCA report last year said that at KS2 and KS3 the introduction of more non-fiction texts had cut the time for fiction reading. KS3 had become "dominated by extracts".

Warblington secondary, in Havant, Hampshire, is bucking the trend. Last year it introduced a book scheme from Renaissance Learning in which pupils read whole books and then take a computer test on the story. As a result, 70 per cent of the 68 Year 7 pupils taking part improved their reading by one level. Julie Rose, the head, said they were more motivated in lesson time too. Now all Year 7 and Year 8 pupils get half an hour's reading every day.

A national strategies spokeswoman said: "It is only possible for a child to go through KS3 without reading a whole novel if the teacher chooses such a reductive route (and their) subject leader approves."

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