“Education is reduced to a series of statistics”

06:00 February 6, 2022

Reading is my passion, as I have said many times in this column, so I was interested to read that a recently published report by researchers from the UCL Institute of Education has given question the current practice of teaching reading through phonics (learning the sounds of individual letters and mixing them together to read the word).

Right now the DfE (Department for Education) has been advocating phonics as the best thing for reading for decades and they back this up with data from phonics screening tests taken by first graders .

However, what this data really tells us is that first graders have become very good at passing the test, because that is what the teaching is about.

In fact, UCL research looked at three different models of learning to read and it’s no surprise to educators across the country that a ‘balanced approach’ is seen as most effective way to reach all learners.

This approach covers not only letter sounds and word mixing, but also examining other text clues and reading meaning.

The real problem with phonics is that it can cause learners to speak words but not understand the meaning of the sentence. Reading should be more than just the mechanical pronunciation of letters.

Unfortunately, too often these days learning is tied to data and while I understand that teachers need to be accountable, too often it reduces children to a series of statistics.

One initiative that many schools have joined to manage reading and data collection is a system called Accelerated Reader (AR). He’s another one of my real freaks – I really don’t like him.

AR works on the basis that children’s and teen books are given a digital level. The child is assessed and given a range that matches these levels and these are the books the student is encouraged to read.

Each book also has a point value and at the end of the book the student must take a quiz, earning points for the number of correct answers.

Sounds harmless enough, but what about those young people who want to read a book that isn’t on the list? What about those who want to read a book written for adults? Or those who want to read something that is “below” their range? There aren’t many non-fiction books on the system, aren’t they considered relevant?

This system reduced reading to something transactional. Where is the joy in that?

We should encourage our young people to read whatever comes into their heads – there should be no hierarchy between what makes good and bad reading.

And the worst ? Books are “leveled” by a computer algorithm using things like page count and word count. What about nuances in the text and reading the meaning?

During my professional career, I have encountered adults with low literacy levels within the prison service and I see the effects of these low levels of literacy on life choices and opportunities.

Illiteracy is a very real problem in some parts of our society. Perhaps if we were to celebrate the joy of reading for fun with our children — not for the curriculum, we wouldn’t have young adults leaving school who struggle to read.

If you have young people at home or in the family who don’t really want to put their head in a book, I highly recommend that you visit the library.

Libraries are a great resource and one of the few things that are truly free to use.

Sometimes becoming a reader can be as simple as having a wider range of books to choose from and permission to go with them – no matter the level, score or educational value of the chosen book.