TELEVISION / BRIEFING: Two thoughts of school

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The Independent Culture
Why is it that the only words some children can read are 'Sonic the Hedgehog'? Figures reveal that one in six school-leavers possesses inadequate reading skills. A Lesson For Teacher, this week's WORLD IN ACTION (8.30pm ITV), lectures on the literacy crisis in this country and examines the two opposing solutions offered by infant schools. The 'real books' approach - plunging pupils in at the deep end with coherent texts - is advocated by the majority of state schools, although critics contend that children learning this way rely too heavily on pictures. The 'phonics' method, on the other hand, by which children are first taught the sounds of letters, is being considered by the Government's National Curriculum Council. Its opponents say that pupils following this system merely acquire the ability to mouth sounds. This is an argument emblematic of the strife currently besetting the education system: progressiveness vs traditionalism. In a sequence recurring throughout this documentary, children run through a field brandishing banners in support of the two views. Bill Lyons' instructive film sends proponents of both schools of thought into the rival camp. Neither expert - Jeff Hynds who advocates 'real books' and Martin Turner, a supporter of 'phonics' - is convinced by the experience. Hynds says the adoption of 'phonics' in schools would be a 'total disaster', while Turner claims that 'real books' pupils just aren't learning to read. This one will run and run.

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