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There's no magic without the tools

Read like a butterfly, write like a bee. What, exactly, does Philip Pullman mean?

When I first read his piece lamenting the joylessness of the National Literacy Strategy I was certainly moved by it. It is a good example of how to "persuade, argue, advise". If only it was accurate.

I am studying for a post-graduate certificate in secondary English and I am having to immerse myself in the national curriculum, the literacy strategy, and the key stage 3 strategy. In these documents the teaching of English appears to be "jabbed at with sticks" and dissected to within an inch of its life.

Everything that, in my own privileged education and in my subsequent career in publishing, I took for granted - the joy of reading and writing, of ideas taking shape as words - is there, but in a form I hardly recognise.

Every possible aspect of literacy is apparently ruthlessly carved up and presented as no more than a series of skills.

And so should it be. Reading and writing are skills. For too long too many people have been deprived of them. The enjoyment of the word that Pullman seeks for children comes through being able to use these skills.

The national strategies may not be the best answer, and they are certainly not the only answer, but at the very least they have encouraged schools to look at their attitudes to literacy, and complacency and old orthodoxies have been challenged.

There may be no joy in the government documents, but there can be joy in the classroom.

Not only the joy of reading and writing, but also that which comes with achieving something that has been slowly and painfully acquired, by children who may never read Pullman's books, but have experienced literacy in a way that, if it had been left to chance, they could not have done.

The literacy strategies are only tools in the hands of teachers and pupils, but it is in those hands that magic can be made.

Mary Chesshyre 10 Victoria Road Southborough, Kent

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