Reading is not 'a boy's thing'

14th March 1997 at 00:00
TES reporters look at the controversy surrounding the latest Government attempt to rank schools

For decades the mothers and fathers of the Leicestershire town of Sileby have made shoes and hosiery. The fathers went to work in the factories and the mothers stayed at home to look after the children and earn a few pounds doing "outwork" - stretching leather over shoe heels.

But times have changed. Cheap imports have forced the Sileby factory units to close and unemployment is rising.

But a typical Sileby father still expects his dinner to be on the table when he gets home. And an indication of the parochialism of the town is the three generations of children who have passed through the gates of Redlands primary school.

Only 28 per cent of the children at Redlands achieved level four or above in English. But 34 per cent achieved the grade in mathematics, and 52 per cent in science. The national averages for English, maths and science were 57, 54 and 65 per cent. Redlands' key stage 2 results are in line with its KS1 results, which were also below average.

As only 8.2 per cent of Sileby adults have higher education qualifications, compared to 13.5 per cent of adults in England, this may not be that surprising.

Last September's Office for Standards in Education report described Redlands as "a welcoming and friendly school, where pupils make steady progress in a caring ethos. The pupils' attainment on entry is generally below average. Pupils in the reception class make steady progress in all areas of learning for the under-fives, but nevertheless achieve standards which are still below those expected nationally at the end of the year."

Headteacher Phil Weir thinks the league tables are a waste of time: "When you set up an education system where people compete, there will always be some who are average as well as people above and below. When you hear politicians talking about everyone getting up to average, you wonder what's going on. "

Redlands does seem to have more than its fair share of problems. When The TES visited the school, early years co-ordinator and reception teacher Ann Clark had just been struggling to get her five-year-olds to hear the "t" in table - an exercise most reception children can handle easily. It is not unusual for Redlands children to start school not knowing the primary colours, and not being able to count past one. Speaking and listening is a problem, which Mr Weir puts down to too much television. But information technology is one of the school's strengths, possibly because most children like computers.

Significantly, a survey of 60 Year 4 and 5 children two years ago found that the maximum number of TVs in one household was six and the average was three; many children had a TV in their bedroom.

Janet Gorton, English co-ordinator and Year 6 teacher, believes self-esteem and gender are a problem among many Sileby families. By the time the children reach her class, many think they are too "thick" to do well. And the boys, in particular, are reluctant to read.

"A lot of mothers work, but only in school hours," says Mrs Gorton, "and father expects his meal on the table. A lot of the time the mothers deal with school things. Father often reads nothing except a newspaper, and reading is not seen as a boy's thing." Mrs Gorton tries to encourage reading by using extracts from books as tasters, keeping a cache of special books and making sure the library is well-stocked.

But she finds it frustrating that they have so much to cover in the national curriculum. "It is very, very hard to find time to hear children do quality reading. There are so many other things going on."

Even so, when Sir Ron Dearing gave primary schools 20 per cent extra free time, Redlands decided to devote it to teaching the basics.

The school operates a system of continuous teacher assessment, and the local high school, Humphrey Perkins comprehensive, in Barrow upon Soar, uses the information for its own records when the children transfer at 11.

The OFSTED inspectors said the key issues were to raise standards in English, maths and science, and to ensure that the curriculum is monitored and evaluated to guarantee continuity and progression in pupils' learning. Meanwhile, Mrs Clark is worrying about how she is going to manage a class of 36 reception children after Easter.

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