Editor's comment

30th April 2010 at 01:00

While national and local politicians continue to trumpet the importance of literacy and numeracy in schools (only relatively recently, it should be said), the latest evidence suggests they may be barking up the wrong tree - and not necessarily the tree of knowledge.

Myths such as girls being better at reading and writing and boys preferring non-fiction are often treated as fact in Scottish schools, says Strathclyde University's Vivienne Smith (p1). The best way to tell if a child is going to read and write well - their background and gender - is routinely ignored, she says. But not all experts agree: Professor Tommy MacKay contends that abandoning the explicit teaching of grammar is at the root of Scotland's literacy problems. No wonder teachers are confused.

The truth is, as ever, somewhere between the two. It is surely fatuous of Dr Smith to suggest that teachers do not take account of pupils' backgrounds in looking for solutions to the problems they create, whether in literacy, behaviour or other areas. And can it really be the case, as she argues, that schools get fixated on synthetic phonics to the exclusion of all other remedies? If this is really how teachers are taught, then Graham Donaldson's teacher education review should give it short shrift.

Curriculum for Excellence is supposed to encourage schools to move away from the "one-size-fits-all" approach. Tackling literacy and numeracy in different ways is a good place to start. But - and Dr Smith is right in this respect - teachers need to have the best validated research to help them do so. Lurid headlines about falling standards of reading and writing in S1-2 simply produce a lethal mix of muddied waters and confused politicians - as an analysis by a former principal teacher of English will make clear in next week's TESS.

Neil Munro editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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