Letters: Good sense in ‘made-up’ words

 

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The proposed age-six literacy tests are a well-intentioned attempt to ascertain whether children who have been taught literacy for two years have developed the ability to sound out words phonetically (leading article, 26 April). Phonics is the most important component of becoming literate and without developing it properly children will struggle later with spelling, and with decoding new words.

Unfortunately, we teach children to read too early in this country, before many of them are ready to learn this crucial skill, with the result that they end up memorising words instead of learning to sound them out phonetically. Testing them at age six will allow teachers to find out which children have learnt the trick and which haven't.

The only way to ensure that the children are sounding the words out instead of just recognising words they have seen before, or guessing them based on partial recognition, is to give the children words they don't know – that is, made-up words. This seems sensible to me and I cannot understand why this point has been picked on as some sort of crazy new-fangled experiment with our children's education.

Where is the evidence that "brighter" children will be confused by the made-up words? Anyone who thinks a six-year-old can't understand the difference between real and pretend has never met one. Any six-year-old capable of being taught to read is capable of grasping the idea of made-up words perfectly easily.

Just to make sure, a few minutes ago I wrote the words "fot", "nug", "frib", "cax" and "hep" on a piece of paper and called over my four-year-old, who is learning to read. I told him I had written down some pretend words I had made up and asked him to read them for me. Five out of five correct and back to his trains in less than 30 seconds.

A six-year-old who couldn't understand those simple instructions has more serious problems than phonics. Please, Independent, put this hobby-horse out to pasture.

Ellen Purton

Twickenham, Middlesex

You seem to have a problem with the proposed reading test for six-year olds since it includes some made-up words. As a chair of governors of a primary school I have seen a specimen test. In almost every case I could identify a word, technical term or place name of which the made-up word would form a syllable. Do we value preparing our children for reading unfamiliar words or not?

John W Bailey

Preston, Lancashire

Few innocent as Murdoch hacking scandal spreads

Should Jeremy Hunt resign? It does seem clear that his assistant was indeed being overly supportive of Murdoch, passing on information which should have gone to Parliament first.

However, if Hunt has bent his quasi-judicial duty of impartiality by being friendly to Murdoch, he has not bent that duty nearly as far as Vince Cable did. Cable made it clear that had no slightest intention of judging the same case impartially, being personally "at war" with him Murdoch. As a result he did not lose his ministerial post but simply had his responsibility for this one case transferred to Hunt.

It seems to me that the rules must apply equally in both directions. If boasting of being wholly biased against somebody is not cause of resignation then the appearance of being slightly biased in the same person's interest cannot be either.

Neil Craig

Glasgow

There has never been the least reason to doubt Vince Cable's instinct to close the door to Murdoch, as Andrew Grice wrote (Inside Westminster, 28 April), and the Liberal Democrats' policy of keeping well clear of News International has been vindicated.

But how will the Lib Dems remind the electorate of their sound judgement, on this issue at least, while there at David Cameron's right hand in the Commons, as he twists and turns to shake off the Murdoch mud, is the tormented figure of the party's leader, Nick Clegg?

J E S Bradshaw

Southam, Warwickshire

Max Mosley has gone too far in funding MPs to get their revenge on Murdoch.

I have never defended Mr Murdoch before, and have even been a stern critic of him and certainly do not support the actions taken by the News of the World.

Initially Tom Watson MP had great sympathy for what had happened to him, along with many others, but this is clearly an agenda now of revenge, and displays the true motive of Labour MPs to be vindictive, destructive and childish.

In the end the public will be confused as to which bully they are to be wary of.

Cllr Ralph Baldwin

Barking, Essex

Why is a minister investigated only if the Prime Minister wants it? What if the Prime Minister's conduct needs investigation?

Robert Davies

London SE3

This government has taken only 22 months to become as sleazy and discredited as Thatcher and Major achieved in 15 years.

Christopher Clayton

Waverton, Cheshire

Prostate surgery depends on age

I was extremely interested to read your front-page article on the recent study which raises doubts over the efficacy of prostate cancer treatment (28 April).

As someone who underwent a radical prostatectomy three years ago, my main concern is the issue of age and its implications on treatment and quality of life. As you point out, one in four cases affect men under 65. While the "watch and wait" advice is fine if you are, say, 68 – when a 10 to 12 years' watch-and-wait takes you to 80 – it's very different when you are 50 (the age at which I was diagnosed).

All three of the medical experts that I dealt with (urologist, radiologist and surgeon) were excellent in spelling out the options and their implications. I needed to weigh up the potential risk of incontinence and impotence against the implications of delaying treatment (watching and waiting). I opted for surgery.

My wife and I had discussed the quality-life implications at length – and we agreed that the implications of the daily worry that the cancer might be spreading or becoming more aggressive, plus the constant round of regular checks and hospital visits, was far worse that the possible consequences of surgery.

I have never regretted my decision. Any side effects were temporary and I am now at the point where I have almost forgotten I ever had cancer.

Alex Taylor

London W5

Royalty, love them or hate them

More often than not, I find myself in agreement with Christina Patterson, but not in the case of the dreary effusions in her apologia for the Queen (28 April).

It would seem that this super-rich, superannuated old biddy (the Queen, not Christina Patterson) only has to wander around shaking a few hands and murmuring banalities to merit the undying gratitude of her adoring subjects.

Heaven forfend that anyone should suggest that her long, pampered and pointless reign, along with that of the rest of her useless extended family, has been a gigantic waste of tax-payers' money,

Christina Patterson does admit to hoping that the Queen is "the last in a ridiculous line", but then feebly concludes that the jolly old monarch nevertheless "makes us very proud". Well, speak for yourself.

Ian Roberts

Leicester

Thank you for two pages of lovely photographs celebrating the first year of the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (28 April). What a pity about the supercilious comments by Harriet Walker.

Lyn Richmond

Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Crackdown on electoral fraud

Electoral fraud includes serious offences, and any allegations of fraud, such as those reported in Friday's paper relating to Tower Hamlets, need to be dealt with quickly and robustly ("Police study voting fraud claims ahead of elections", 27 April).

The Electoral Commission has been working closely since the beginning of the year with the police, the Tower Hamlets electoral registration officer and the Greater London returning officer to ensure that the right steps are being taken to prevent and detect fraud; and the police have made clear that they are assessing the allegations you reported.

No one has the right to interfere with someone else's vote. Anyone with any evidence that electoral fraud is taking place should report it to the police at once.

Andrew Scallan

Director, Electoral Administration,

The Electoral Commission.

London EC1

In brief...

Giving pupils a solid meal

The survey by Kids Company highlights the problem of pupils suffering malnutrition as a result of child poverty ("More children go to school hungry, warn teachers", 27 April). In Southwark we are bringing in universal free healthy school meals for primary school children, ensuring that every child can enjoy a nutritious and tasty meal at lunchtime. Parents are telling us that their children are starting to eat more healthily at school and asking for more fruit and vegetables at home. The scheme is expected to save a family with two children at primary school £700 a year.

Catherine McDonald

Cabinet member for children's services, Southwark Council

London SE1

Blame for porn

When did it stop being the job of parents to take care of their children and become that of society ("We need to talk about porn", 28 April)? All of a sudden parents decided it wasn't their fault if their child was watching or reading age-rated material in the home; it was the fault of the publisher. When I was 14 to 16, the selling of soft-core pornographic magazines between my classmates was the norm. Nothing has changed and nothing will. Young people want to learn about sex and banning it will only make things worse.

Matthew Niven

Middlesbrough

Whose water?

When utility companies, railways or commercial companies fail to deliver their supply promises there is a penalty payable to either to the consumer or the public purse. Will someone explain to me why it is acceptable for water companies to ban certain types of usage of water when they have clearly benefited from not investing sufficiently to provide adequate supplies, either by reducing leaks, expanding reservoir capacity or providing supplies from other areas?

R A Smith

Hadleigh, Suffolk

Not alone

William Dartmouth MEP is under the mistaken impression that Saudi Arabia and South Africa are "fully independent states" – in contrast to Britain's membership of the EU (letter, 27 April). I would like to draw his attention to the international alliances these countries are part of, namely the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Southern African Development Community, respectively.

Debbie Goodier

Croydon, Surrey

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