The TES is publishing readers' open letters to David Blunkett in an occasional series: I should like you to give priority of word and deed to the plight of "borderline" readers. At low achievement levels, reading scores correlate more strongly than any subject scores with eventual GCSE performance.
Working in a city fringe comprehensive school, I found that pupils scoring in the region of 93 to 103 on the NFER's London Reading Test in the May preceding their entry to secondary school were particularly vulnerable to the effects of other adverse factors on their eventual GCSE performance.
For one year that I studied in detail, 38 per cent of pupils fell into this group. Of those, 71 per cent gained fewer than 33 GCSE points (A=7 etc). All pupils who scored fewer than 23 GCSE points had a reading score, on entry, below 103. Most misbehaving pupils were in this group.
Secondary schools usually make remedial provision for virtual non-readers but, necessarily, subject compartmentalisation means that they are neither staffed, nor geared, to cater for the needs of the "borderline" group members, who are often intelligent pupils.
You acknowledge the fundamental importance of reading. I should like you to begin at the beginning; by emphasising specific ministerial responsibility for reading; by making reading a separate entity in the national curriculum, rather than an aspect of English; by statutorily requiring reading to be tested at least annually throughout the years of compulsory state education; and by making provision for those who currently need help.
Solid reading competence gives pupils the freedom to choose to achieve, but there are practical implications also that are already upon us and affect us all. For example, can you not almost touch the frustration of resourceful individuals who want to drive, but fail, or fail to take, the new driving test because they are caught in "The Reading Trap"? Can you not feel the effect on their already damaged self-esteem? Even more worrying, can you work out what solutions are open to them?
I plead with you to act now. Tomorrow could be too late.
JOAN CONSTANCE For 25 years senior teacher with responsibility for primarysecondary liaision, testing and pastoral care.
26 Thorold Grove Sale, Cheshire
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