Thursday, April 14, 2005

Tory confusion over education

Michael Howard, reports the BBC, has pledged to put phonics at the heart of teaching in schools:
Mr Howard said repeated studies had shown that the system of phonics, where children are taught words through the sounds that form them, was the best method for teaching language
It would be interesting to know how he squares this promise with the speech that he made on 24 March 2005 setting out his vision of "The Britain I believe in":

Just as parents know best what is right for their children, so professionals have the clearest vision of what is right for our schools and hospitals.

Government should trust and support teachers in their mission to pass on the best of what has been thought and written to the next generation.

It seems that the Tories will only "trust and support" teachers who do what they are told.

How to benefit from research findings while allowing room for individual judgement is a problem for all parties. The Tory approach is to say whatever a particular audience wishes to hear and pretend there is no problem at all.

Speaking for myself, I doubt that phonics are the be all and end all of reading. My mother taught me to read from the Ladybird keywords books (with the original illustrations,* mark you), which used a strictly look-and-say method. It never did me any harm.

* "When Peter and Jane first appeared in the early sixties, Jane was dressed in pretty dresses with hair ribbons, and Peter had short trousers. Peter did boys things, and Jane did girlish things.

Now ten years later, Ladybird were getting attacked by people who were saying that they were too middle class, that boys no longer wore shorts, they wore jeans. Girls no longer had hair ribbons, they wore jeans, and we had to spend a fortune on altering all the illustrations to bring Peter and Jane up to date. The alterations to Ladybird represented a social document showing exactly what had happened."

(From an interview with former Ladybird employee George Towers.)

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