Teachers demand rethink on reading

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The Independent Online
MEMBERS of the biggest teachers' union yesterday demanded a delay in government plans for a new, daily "reading hour" in all primary schools.

The hour, which is central to ministers' strategy for raising standards, is part of a literacy programme to be introduced from September.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers' annual conference in Blackpool unanimously backed a motion which said that the September date was "totally unacceptable", because most teachers would not have been trained in how to use the new reading hour. They also rejected government attempts to tell teachers how to teach, spelled out in new guidelines on reading which give minute by minute advice on what to do during the literacy hour.

Mary Compton, from Radnor in Wales, told the conference: "For the first time the Government is trying to tell us how to teach. Even the Tories didn't do that. It isn't an aid to teaching. It's an idiot's guide.

"It will be like East Germany before 1989, when every lesson was planned and dictated by the government."

Jo Sarsennie from Islington, London, described the literacy hour as "a revolution in government interference." Her school had so far resisted the idea and intended to go on resisting.

The literacy hour and guidelines will not be compulsory in law and ministers have said they will not be imposed if schools are meeting their targets. But teachers fear that they will come under pressure to adopt them from inspectors and local authorities.

Some delegates argued that the new plans were already raising standards. Frances Robbins, from Bristol, said her school had been using the strategy for two years. " While children of higher ability have made some progress, many of middle and lower ability have improved enormously. I don't know of any school that has started the project that has regretted it."

Delegates are also preparing to threaten action, including strikes, against another important government policy.

The union's moderate leadership yesterday defeated left-wingers who wanted to boycott new education action zones which will be testbeds of experiment in under-achieving schools. But a debate on a motion demanding strikes if the zones tear up teacher's national pay and conditions agreements is expected to be concluded today.

Ministers have said that they hope some zones will vary teachers' pay and that a few may be led by private firms, rather than local education authorities. Some delegates warned conference not to accept ministerial assurances that firms would not be able to run zones for profit.

NUT executive member, Bernie Regan, said: "The zones are nothing less than an attack on public education in this country and the triumph of free market ideology. The local authority will not be guaranteed a leading role in every zone. It is a move to privatise education."