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Twits are top of the class

Survey highlights primary teachers' resolve to read aloud to pupils despite pressures.

MORE THAN nine out of 10 primary teachers read to their classes at least once a week despite the pressure of tests, a TES survey has found.

Responses from 360 staff in England and Wales reveal that all infant children are read to either every day or most days, but half of teachers in Year 6 have cut down in the past five years, as they prepare for Sats.

Teachers and pupils said Roald Dahl's The Twits was the best to read aloud.

Guidance for Year 5 and 6 teachers will be published this summer by the national primary strategy and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, a London-based charity, emphasising the importance of reading aloud. David Sherhod, a Year 6 teacher in Kent, said: "I would like to read much more to my class but it is extremely difficult in Year 6. We have to prepare the children for the 11-plus in January and then we get the Sats in May. There are so many competing interests that something has to give."

The survey found that one in three teachers had less time to read books to their class than they did five years ago, although nearly one in five had more time.

The biggest obstacles which stopped teachers reading aloud were the national curriculum, cited by 86 per cent. Tests were mentioned by 32 per cent. Other problems included poor pupil behaviour, cited by 12 per cent, while 11 per cent said it was hard to find suitable books. Seven per cent said heads were not supportive.

Sue Palmer, a literacy specialist, said that reading stories aloud promotes the important skills of listening, language, attention and memory. It also helps children write their own stories.

Speaking and listening were included in the primary strategy for the first time in 2003 as experts recognised that they played a vital role in children's development. Professor Robin Alexander, head of the Primary Review, raised concerns about them after his study of five countries found that children in England were likely to read silently or to the teacher.

His two-year inquiry, which began last year, is looking at the issue.

Sue McGonigle, advisory teacher for the centre for literacy, said: "Reading is the most important thing a teacher can do. It takes them into a world of experience they would not have access to. Teachers should read aloud every day throughout primary school."

Amanda Hanbury, a Year 1 teacher at St Joseph's Catholic primary in Harrow, Middlessex, said she read to her class every day, but it was often a race against the bell.

"I aim to concentrate on a story session twice a week. On the other three days I just read them a story and then it's home time," she said.

Michael Morpurgo, the children's author, said: "The very first requirement in teaching literacy is that children view books as something they enjoy.

Get a child enthusiastic about stories, the rest will follow."

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