Sunday, 18 November 2007

This week's news: Conservatives plan for all children to read by six

Just as I was thinking about not bothering with a review of the news, my indolence was shaken by the announcement by Michael Gove about the new Tory plan for all children to be reading by the age of six.

A quick point before I really get going: please can we stop making the achievements, happiness, size or any other feature of children aged just six years old the zone for political warfare? Isn't this something that would be better off as a parent-school dialogue, and professional discussion?

As that proposition has yet to be accepted I would like to submit some thoughts.

I'm not quite sure that Michael Gove is, yet, sufficiently knowledgeable about the English state school system (which he neither experienced as a child, nor has worked in as an adult). When he says that he wants something done "by age six" he needs to define his terms a little tighter.

Does he really mean by age six - so that this will be a rolling test of reading ability administered on or near the child's birthday?

Or - as seems to be implied - does he mean by the end of Year One in primary schooling?

Either plan is silly, because if anyone cares to look into international studies of reading ability, they will soon come across countries like Finland, where formal schooling starts at seven...and where literacy is extremely high. Or New Zealand...Sweden...and a whole host of other places where the notion that all children could have started formal education and become readers aged six would be received with astonishment.

Specifically the plan is daft if Michael Gove means aged six because winter born children will have only just left Reception aged six. So they will have had one year of infant schooling, not two. If all these children aged six are expected to be readers then that will rip up any idea of there being a phase of early years education which extends into the Reception Year. Michael Gove will have brought forward formal education by yet another year in England.

The plan is equally daft if Michael Gove means by the end of Year One - because some children are not even yet six by the end of Year One (if they have a July or August birthday) and there is no logic in the idea that these five year olds should all be reading.

I was about to say - think again

But the "again" would be a mistake.