Letter: Don't blame the teachers for `failings' in English lessons

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The Independent Online
Sir: Teachers are used to the back-stabbing hypocrisy of educational policy-makers, but the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's pronouncement that English lessons "deterred pupils from reading entire books" (report, 5 February) is beyond toleration.

When I started teaching English in a comprehensive school in the 1970s, policy was that all work arose from the shared reading of books in class. That meant that all pupils in each of the three years preceding the examination syllabuses read a minimum of four complete texts - novels, plays, poetry, short stories - with the teacher. There was also a compulsory "private reading" homework, checked and monitored. Reading complete books was at the core of my work, and when I took over my own department in the 1980s, I continued this policy.

The next twenty years were a struggle to keep this principle going in the face of initiatives from advisory bodies. It was eroded first by the intrusion into valuable classroom time of other areas of the curriculum, mainly vocational and personal. Then, under the direct influence of the QCA, English examination syllabuses became increasingly fragmented and prescriptive, encouraging the mentality of techniques acquired and boxes ticked rather than the enjoyment of complete books. I finally quit in 2000 when English teachers were informed that all lessons should begin with a compulsory "starter" element focusing on single aspects of grammar or spelling.

Now, as so often in recent years in education, those who impose systems blame those who implement them, and adopt the views they opposed so bitterly. If I were still teaching, I would be fuming with anger.

FRANK STARTUP

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

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