Chalk Talk: So Dickens is too challenging for today’s children? Not for these ones


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The Independent Online

There was one voice missing in the debate earlier this month over when children should start reading Dickens – that of the children themselves.

Now that gap has been filled by a class of year seven pupils (first year secondary school) after reading Dickens' biographer Claire Tomalin's claim that "children have very short attention spans". Thus, she argued, reading a Dickens novel would be too challenging.

Well, say the year sevens from Southend High School for Boys: "As a class we have recently read A Christmas Carol. We have found that the difficulty of the language used by Dickens is not too much of a challenge. The way he presents his ideas is very educational, as we have found that it has helped us to improve our grammar and spelling. We found that reading the novel was fun and engaging. We think that reading a Dickens novel should be done by all year sevens. It was particularly enjoyable seeing Scrooge transform from a mean, 'cold' and 'covetous old sinner' into a kind, loving and joyful man."

They add: "We think that the levels of intelligence of year sixes and sevens are underestimated by some and that we should be challenged to go beyond expectations.

"Therefore, we think that all 10-year-olds and above should be encouraged to read a Dickens novel, yet preferably within school where help can be at hand with the more difficult language choices. They could even start with shortened versions of Dickens' novels, or perhaps excerpts, and then move on to whole novels after a while."

Over to you Messrs Gibb and Gove. A place on your National Curriculum review for these pupils for starters, perhaps?

Good to see on the list of those groups planning to make an application to run a free school next year the proposal to set up a school in Lewisham, south London, to wean young people away from the gang culture.

Let us hope that the Diaspora High School, which pledges guaranteed work experience for its pupils when they reach the school leaving age to avoid them going straight out on to the streets, gets the nod this time.