National Literacy Project shuns 'reductionist' label

17th January 1997 at 00:00
Kathy Hall's article "Spelling out the problem" (TES, Jan 3), raises concerns about the National Literacy Project's intentions, suggesting there is a hidden agenda to make teachers into technicians by undermining their ability to "make their own informed decisions".

There is no such agenda, of course. The declared aim of the project is to improve standards of literacy in primary schools, and few would argue that there is not considerable scope for doing this.

The NLP framework, far from being a "narrowing of curriculum content" of treating phonics "as an end in itself", covers the full range of work required by the national curriculum programmes of study for literacy. Its rationale begins from the clearly stated need to teach pupils a wide range of reading and writing strategies, including phonics and spelling. This is not "reductionist"; it reflects Kathy Hall's own dictum that phonics should be "part of the teacher's pedagogical repertoire".

The NLP starts with the practical issues facing primary schools. Not all teachers are confident about teaching literacy, especially at key stage 2 and most of them have nine other subjects to plan as well. For most teachers, literacy has to be taught to whole classes of pupils, mixed ability, and cannot be taught efficiently on an individual basis. Professor Hall's rejection of the proposed framework stands in sharp contrast to the perceptions of most of those I have met on our training courses. They see the work as a significant challenge for themselves and their pupils. The most common request is for more, rather than less, practical support.

Similarly, almost all of the heads I have spoken to have welcomed the NLP framework because it provides a clear and consistent structure for managing the curriculum, and for ensuring progression and continuity between classes. Most have said that they see no sense in every primary school re-inventing its own wheel.

What all this comes down to, and what is clear from research and inspection, is that successful schools do just the kinds of things we are planning in the NLP. Kathy Hall's dismissal of the project as "reactionary" and "wholly inadequate", before anyone has even begun using the framework, is surely premature - especially in the light of her comment that rigorous evaluation is "vital".

JOHN STANNARD Director, National Literacy Project, 59-65 London Street, Reading, Berkshire

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