Michael Rosen, Literacy and Mr Gove

US_Navy_050302-N-1113S-004_Yeoman_3rd_Class_Inez_Knight,_assigned_to_the_Administration_Department_on_board_U.S._Naval_Air_Facility_Atsugi,_Japan,_reads_to_a_first-grade_classIn a series of open letters to the Education Secretary, Mr Gove, Michael Rosen has questioned various aspects of the current government’s education policies. The latest letter, published in the Guardian, asks Mr Gove to justify why, according to the many primary school teachers with whom Michael Rosen has been in contact, reading story books to our youngest primary school pupils has been branded a waste of time by Ofsted inspectors.

Presumably, the Ofsted inspectors would like teachers to use this time studying phonics – the government’s literacy tool of choice. But Rosen questions the validity of this, querying the value of a test of literacy for six year olds which only assesses their ability to read out loud, and not their ability to understand that which they are reading.

As an English teacher, albeit at secondary school level, I have often been approached by parents who would like to find out how best they can support their teenagers to improve their English grades. Would purchasing a study guide help? Perhaps we could do more past papers at home? For most pupils, my answer will be the same: get them reading. It doesn’t particularly matter what; get them reading newspapers, blogs, trashy novels, high-brow novels… Reading for pleasure – regardless of what text it is that is being read – improves a child’s vocabulary; it improves their ability to scan for information; it improves their ability to retain information. Crucially, it improves their confidence regarding reading – which, in turn, will improve their confidence when approaching examination texts or unseen papers, or – looking ahead – informative leaflets at a future job interview, for example.

Ofsted knows this. As Michael Rosen points out, that’s why they published a report in 2011 in which they recommended that every school should have a policy for ‘reading for pleasure’. But it seems that Ofsted are wilfully ignoring their own findings. So when Michael Rosen asks if ‘ “reading out loud” (is) the desirable and necessary endpoint of literacy teaching, or is it “reading and understanding”?’, he knows what the sensible answer is – and he knows that Ofsted are in agreement with him. Michael Rosen, really, is asking why Gove is going against the common-sense approach to reading and literacy. We await Mr Gove’s answer with interest.