Editorial: Talk well, read well

13th November 1998 at 00:00
There is a tendency in British education to assume the worst on flimsy evidence, and then react accordingly. It's a propensity exacerbated by the mainstream media, always eager to prise open the smallest chink in anyone's armour - be they politician, policy adviser or primary teacher.

This makes open and honest dialogue hard to achieve - especially in such a controversial field as primary literacy. But that is what Michael Barber,head of the Government's school standards and effectiveness unit, and John Stannard (in charge of the National Literacy Strategy) are aiming at, in a series of evening conferences for teachers sponsored by The TES . The idea is to share experiences and opinions on the progress of the National Literacy Strategy, and to clarify its role in professional practice.

Currently, the whole area is ringing with a babel of conflicting voices: politicians vigorously extolling the strategy; primary teachers objecting to dictats from above . . . and primary teachers enthusiastically embracing the new framework; researchers demonstrating that the chosen method is triumphantly successful - or that it is fatally flawed.

Yet the real objective is to raise reading levels, especially among boys,and to instil a love of books. All the targets, frameworks and guidelines have this long-term aim - which is not well served by infighting among the exponents of different methods, or by an insatiable desire to prove others wrong.

The most important message for teachers, as professionals, is to take control of their own practice. The literacy strategy is not compulsory. It embodies the best that is currently known about effective teaching methods,and offers guidelines backed up with materials. Successful teachers are not being asked to abandon their tried and tested approaches; but less-experienced teachers, or those whose pedagogy needs a lift, now have a blueprint for improving their practice. The challenge is to take a grip of the process and make it work - adapting it to the needs of the teachers and pupils involved (see Ruth Miskin's Opinion, opposite).

Above all, we can only improve our understanding of how children can be helped to learn more effectively if such matters are discussed in an open and rational manner. Then we can jointly develop successful methods for imparting to all our children one of the most important skills they will ever need.

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