John Humphrys · Radio 4's Today programme

Wuns mor deer frends, …

How enormously irritating it was this morning to listen to Mike Welsh of the National association of Head Teachers talking to John Humphrys on the Today programme about new government figures showing that one in ten boys leaving primary school at eleven have a reading age of seven or below.
‘There’s nothing new here,’ declared Welsh. He’s right, though not in the way he meant it. For far too long there has been this same long tail of underachievement, which Welsh failed to explain other than to suggest that most of this is due to children with special educational needs. So, that’s it! It’s the fault of the children not the fault of senior managers, like Welsh, who fail to recognise that it’s the methodology that’s the problem.
Later in the programme, Michael Gove made a number of points that give an indication that he and Nick Gibb are on the right track. He firmly advocated systematic, synthetic phonics; he placed emphasis on evidence that programmes designed to teach children to read and spell actually work; and, he insisted that testing was one way of finding out whether schools are doing their job – after all, he said, ‘Do we want our children to learn to read or not?’
He also insisted that government needs to follow through. The last government seemed to believe that if it issued a decree, then everyone would jump to it. They commissioned the Rose Review and then sat back and failed to ensure that it was implemented. As the results show only too clearly, despite the billions of pounds spent on improving standards, very little has been done to boost the fortunes of so many children entering secondary education without the ability to cope with a secondary curriculum.
Michael Gove and Nick Gibb have said that they are going to ensure that things improve. The problem is that they haven’t spelt out how they are going to do it. As I’ve argued so many times before if teaching practitioners are going to teach children to read and spell proficiently, they must receive the proper training and that training must be in a programme that works.