'Testing takes the wonder out of reading'

Reading can bring joy and reduce stress – but testing makes it all about comprehension and grammar, says Colin Harris

Testing makes reading all about grammar and comprehension - rather than pleasure, writes Colin Harris

Visiting schools, one always sees a hive of activity, with children engaged in their work. But rarely do I see children reading quietly, or sitting, engrossed, listening to a master storyteller share a book.

All schools have some pupils who can’t read. But many may also face a different problem: they’re not creating any kind of love for reading. 

Far more needs to be done to tackle this. However, because we have a government that believes that achieving a good test result is far more important than actual enjoyment, we have a problem. 

In essence, testing is driving out enjoyment in so many of our children.

Reading at the centre of the curriculum

Former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo, one of the country’s greatest children's authors, talks of having had the pleasure of reading driven out of him by the repressive testing regime when he was a child.

Life has not changed. He – like I – would love to see a love for reading at the very centre of any curriculum, with renewed emphasis on story time

Testing, sadly, takes the wonder out of reading. It turns it into a vehicle for comprehension, handwriting and grammar tests, at the expense of love, pleasure and enjoyment. 

Too many children, therefore, give up too early on reading, as they associate it with failure. On this, Michael says: “To give up on books is to give up on education, and if you give up on education, then you can easily give up on hope.”

Reading for pleasure

Reading for pleasure builds so many skills. In the book I’m reading at the moment is a bookmark that says, “Reading a book for six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by up to 68 per cent.”

These words of wisdom come from University of Sussex research from 2009, which also found that reading works faster and better than any other type of relaxation method.

Today, we must always be aware of our pupils’ wellbeing. Is there a better way to help their wellbeing than by encouraging the development of a love of reading?

The Sussex research also showed that reading slowed cognitive decline, improved sleep, enhanced social skills and could also boost intelligence.

Reading for pleasure is essential in all our schools. It will also help pupils to gain better general knowledge, help to disrupt negative stereotypes, improve social relationships and develop empathy in pupils.

In fact, the list of reasons why we need reading for pleasure at the expense of the negative testing regime is endless. I could keep going for hours. But I won’t: I have a book I need to finish.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

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