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Writing off progress units

I WAS pleased to see Graham Frater's article about the key stage 3 literacy progress units (TES, January 25) as it articulated some of the frustrations felt by myself and my colleagues at their poor quality.

They are taught in our school by two teaching assistants and the special educational needs teacher (who is not an English specialist) to the 31 children (in six groups) who achieved level 3 at key stage 2. They occupy nine full lessons a week.

I am, frankly, surprised that anyone has managed to stick to the script and get the lessons into the 20 minutes recommended. I have a degree and obtained a 2 in English language GCE in the mid-1960s. While preparing the resources I tried out some exercises and found I could not complete the tasks in the allotted time. What chance did the children have?

I also found that I could only teach a topic because I had taught similar subject matter in my "real" job. (I work with the SEN teacher delivering literacy programmes to dyslexic children and others with quite severe learning difficulties.) The units are supposed to be structured so they can be taught by anybody, but they require a very high level of knowledge of grammar, a knowledge which is increasingly rare these days.

Worse still, the devisers of the units don't seem to have much of a command of the English language. I was astounded to find in the sentences unit that phrases from adverts (not a verb in sight) were frequently used. Today I have tried to teach the metaphors lesson - I threw the script out of the window (metaphorically speaking) as whoever wrote it doesn't have the faintest idea what a metaphor is.

An enormous amount of money has been poured into these units. Before they even reached a school there was extensive training and manual production. Our school had to buy in materials such as white- boards (how the children love them - a great opportunity for artistic expression and they make a lovely clattering noise on the desks).

The teaching materials had to be reproduced; I estimate that the phonics unit alone took me the equivalent of a working week to prepare (it was very complex, with games, word cards and worksheets for each session). The money could have been far better spent in schools on more specialist staff giving the children meaningful literacy lessons which integrated with their KS3 curriculum work.

I cannot understand why the Department for Education and Skills persists in insulting the many excellent English teachers by assuming that they are not competent to teach basic literacy and insisting on this "teaching by numbers" approach using unimaginative and substandard material.

M Downie Beecburn Farm, CrookCounty Durham

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