Education Letter: Tests teach us to value only what we measure

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The Independent Online
"THIS BOOK is disgusting - I loved it" (about The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks). I quoted this from a book review by a Year 9 student in a book promotion assembly at our school. The Head commented that she found Iain Banks "disturbing". Result: all our copies of The Wasp Factory have been "out" ever since! No one can say that it isn't stimulating and challenging reading for 14-year-olds.

Wendy Earle seems to miss out some vital points in her article. For many children, reading is quite a difficult and unexciting activity compared to, say, playing computer games. It competes with many other activities. Yes, children do need help in choosing books they will enjoy, but it must be exactly "books they enjoy" - and what they enjoy will depend on their level of intelligence, literacy, their mood, whether they are on the beach or curled up in bed or reading on the bus (just the same for us adults, isn't it?).

Librarians in schools try to fit the right book to the right reader; we don't think about targets and "good" and "bad" books as Wendy Earle seems to do. The English national curriculum already provides a stimulating and varied diet, which is excitingly taught (in our school anyway).

As for personal, private reading, I think it is important to promote books in a non-judgemental way. What is easy for one student is challenging for another. None of us want to be challenged all the time.

Nor do we all like the same thing. A Year 9 student reviewed David Almond's Skellig (Whitbread Children's Book winner), and found it "powerful and mysterious". The Head didn't enjoy it - doubtless this will be a controversial theme in the next edition of our review magazine.

"They offer them poor quality books which children might choose for themselves anyway." This is so patronising and leaves out the magic fact that children grow up and develop. My daughter at age 11 had a magnificent collection of the Babysitter's Club books, definitely unstimulating. Now aged 16 she has been reading Mansfield Park as a break from her science A-levels, and giving me the benefit of her enthusiastic analysis. She has donated her Babysitter's Club books to the school library, where they are very popular!


School Librarian

Sir John Lawes School