‘Why are some children leaving school still unable to read?’

Schools have a duty to teach every child to read, and excuses are not good enough, say authors Dianne and James Murphy

Jamie Thom


“You just have to accept you will always have children who will fail.” 

When Dianne Murphy was told this as a newly qualified teacher, she was horrified. But it was her refusal to accept this mantra that resulted in a career-long crusade to make sure that all young people in her care left school confident in their reading.

This month, Dianne and James Murphy, authors of Thinking Reading: what every secondary teacher needs to know about reading, talk on the Tes English-teaching podcast about their experience in helping to transform the teaching of reading in schools – and in particular, how to better support those children who struggle with reading.

“In secondary school we have virtually no preparation for helping students with reading difficulties because the assumption is that we won’t have students like that. And, of course, there are a lot of students like that,” says James.

This lack of preparation means that those children who enter secondary school with reading levels well behind their peers currently do not always receive the help they need, Dianne adds.

For these children, she says, secondary school is often the “last-chance saloon”.  

“They’re unlikely to have an opportunity to have their reading addressed once they leave secondary school. So it’s so important that it does happen, because it’s life-changing,” she adds.

Whole-school approaches to reading

So what can schools do to fix the problem?

To start with, the senior leadership team needs to make reading a “whole-school mission”, says James. Regular reading should be a central part of all subjects. There should, he says, be “a non-negotiable level of practice” in which students “read something substantive in every lesson, every single day”.  

In the podcast, Dianne and James also share a range of suggestions for how we can make “reading matter for young people” and encourage them to read more for pleasure. 

Above all, they call for an end to defeatist attitudes about young people's ability to access reading material. After all, as James suggests: “There is a moral responsibility on our system and on our schools that everybody leaves school after 11 years – 10,000 hours – of education, able to read. And if we don’t know how to teach kids how to read in 10,000 hours, then we need to find out.”

You can listen for free by downloading the podcast from iTunes or listening below.

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Jamie Thom

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