Leading Article: Reading by numbers

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EVERY year it is the same story. Easter weekend means traffic jams and a bust-up at the National Union of Teachers conference. And that bust-up is always the same. Left-wing activists who under no circumstances should be allowed near children denounce the Government and demand immediate strike action. The NUT leadership condemns them and lectures them on the nature of the "real world".

This year, everything is going to plan, even down to the relatively recent innovation of the leadership winning the votes that matter. So, when a teacher compared David Blunkett's plans for a "literacy hour" to "East Germany before 1989, where every lesson was planned and dictated by the government", the temptation is to dismiss it as mere posturing.

Here, though, the NUT does have a point. The detailed timetable for the hour, to the nearest five minutes, and the list of the books which must be covered, takes the logic of the national curriculum too far. The hour does not take account of the fact that children learn to read at different speeds, so either the more able or the less able are going to be bored by such narrowly-prescribed teaching. Mr Blunkett should lighten up a bit, and realise that he cannot teach all the nation's children how to read by remote control from Great Smith Street. But the NUT should concentrate on persuading parents that its members could do a better job if they were given more flexibility.