Extended questions of continuity

10th March 2000 at 00:00
LITERACY IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOL. Edited by Maureen Lewis and David Wray. David Fulton pound;14

Much of this book will be familiar to readers of David Wray and Maureen Lewis's previous book, Extending Literacy (Routledge 1997).

All primary teachers will also be aware of its content since it forms the basis for the National Literacy Strategy training module on reading and writing non-fiction at key stage 2. So what is new about this book?

Like its predecessor, it is based on the findings of the Exeter Extending Literacy (EXEL) research project, which was set up at the University of Exeter in 1992 to explore ways in which non-fiction might be used more effectively to extend pupils' reading and writing.

The authors acknowledge that the focus of literacy teaching has broadened beyond primary schools to secondary teaching as well.

Contributors include secondary teachers who have worked on literacy within their subject teaching. It also describes David Wray's work with Birmingham LEA as part of its key stage 3 literacy initiative, funded by the Department for Education and Employment standards fund. Birmingham was one of 22 authorities that won bids for 1998-9 to focus on developing literacy at key stage 3.

The book starts with a brief overview of the current concern with literacy; an explanation of the theoretical frameworks that underpin the Exel project and how they translate into classroom practice; and a description of one attempt to build from these frameworks a method of assessing pupil progress in literacy across the curriculum.

Teachers then provide accounts of classroom practice in subject areas such as English, geography and science. Finally, the authors discuss what schools and leas can do to enhance the teaching of literacy in secondary schools.

As they point out, if developing literacy in the secondary school is to be mre successful this time round and have a greater impact than the Bullock report-inspired language across the curriculum initiatives of the Seventies, then a number of key factors have to be addressed.

They are all sensitive issues and bring to bear on secondary teachers many of the pressures and threats to their professionalism that primary colleagues have been dealing with since the advent of the national curriculum and the National Literacy Strategy.

Secondary teachers are less tractable than primary teachers - remember the key stage 3 English boycott? - so these issues will need to be tackled carefully. First, how are secondary teachers, including teachers of English, to be trained to know enough about teaching reading and writing to deliver literacy across the curriculum? Second, there is a lack of collaboration, understanding and respect between primary and secondary schools.

Most secondary schools do not build on the work in primary schools - continuity between key stages 2 and 3 exists in national curriculum documents but not in reality. And the really big question that this book, and current government initiatives, fail to address is what will the National Literacy Strategy's impact be on the secondary school curriculum by 2002?

Surely, if the targets are met and the National Literacy Strategy is successful, then much of the work proposed at secondary level will only be needed for 20 per cent of pupils with special needs?

This book does not concern itself with these issues. It is rooted in practical experience and the findings of the Exel project are valuable for improving the quality of our understanding and teaching of literacy through non-fiction. It should prove useful for secondary practitioners and administrators.

Angel Scott is a lecturer in English education at the School of Education, University of Durham

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