The golden age of reading

24th June 2005 at 01:00
In reply to Basic Skills director Alan Wells's letter headed "For the 1970s, read the 1950s" (FE Focus, Letters, June 10) were the 1950s halcyon days for teaching reading? Absolutely not.

The last "golden age" of reading was back in the 18th century before state education was introduced, when letter sounds, sounding-out and blending (phonics) was the method of choice. Whole-word meaning methods started to appear in the UK in the late 18th century. By the 1930s, most schools were using them as the main form of teaching reading. A few teachers bucked the trend and stuck wholly to phonics but most, in line with their training (or more likely, lack of it), used a bare minimum of phonics alongside the whole-word methods. Apart from the even more disastrous whole-language period (when phonics disappeared altogether), this dreadful mixture of methods was the only form of literacy teaching used in the majority of English primary schools throughout the 20th century. The National Literacy Strategy continues to push this ineffective and confusing mixture into our schools. No wonder that 20 per cent of our children fail to learn to read.

Susan Godsland 3 Chester Close, Exeter

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