I promised to let you know after I'd read it whether Dr Mary Bousted's thesis, A socio-political analysis of the personal growth ideology of English teaching, had anything to do with the teaching of reading, and it doesn't. As it says on the tin, it is a discussion of the politics of English teaching, based on evidence from three secondary school English departments, and assumes that this personal growth ideology, is basically good rather than harmful. This is a cardinal error that has blighted English teaching since it was cooked up by a group of London Marxist academics in the sixties, and is the driving force that has destroyed our national qualification in English as a test of language and made it an examination in leftist interpretations of literature.
Put this together with GCSE maths that has been criticised by Sir Mike Tomlinson and HMI for not equipping candidates with the maths skills they need, and science exams that ask them whether they look at the stars through a microscope or telescope – why didn’t they make it really tough and include a periscope? – and we understand why the private sector is abandoning our national examination systems in a way that is happening nowhere else in the world.
At the lower end of the scale, we already have an alternative qualification in Btech, which was fraudulently allocated an equivalent of four GCSE passes following advice from the late Professor "Red Ted" Wragg, who used to give Labour leaders and secretaries of state friendly advice over the phone on Sunday evenings. This is how it works in one secondary school in the North East. The teacher gives each pupil a powerpoint presentation set up with links to the internet. The pupils click on the link, download the text indicated, and paste it into their powerpoint. This becomes their coursework.
They are discouraged from putting anything into their own words because they'd get a lower mark. The course is called "forensic science". The board, to be fair, was horrified when I told them about it, and I could not identify the school as to do so would have threatened an innocent person's job. But they should not set up courses that are liable to this kind of fraud.
The pupil taking the Btech does not consistently use capital letters when starting a sentence, does not always join handwriting, and only knows his tables and reads to a proper standard because I have taught him. It would no doubt harm his personal growth if anyone marked his book and taught him how to write in sentences.
In fact, we now have a four tier system - International Baccalaureate, A levels light, GCSE, and Btech, aka cutting and pasting, at the bottom. In the days before New Labour wrecked Ofsted, a secondary school was criticised for having pupils colour in pictures of a penguin in geography lessons. Now it would probably be praised for developing their motor skills, and Ofsted no longer inspects geography. On the one inspection I took part in under New Ofsted, the HMI told the head and senior managers "We don't have time to inspect teaching, we have to go on what you tell us", and told us to overlook an unsatisfactory geography lesson because it had nothing to do with the themes he'd identified for the inspection.
I am the more annoyed at this disgraceful and hypocritical mess after attending two conferences at private schools in the past few days – Dulwich College and Wellington – where children are still properly taught. By beginning to restore the state system to its proper function, Michael Gove and Nick Gibb are contributing to equality of opportunity for those who can't afford private education, and more power to their elbow. My Wellington presentation on language learning and brain research, as part of the Sunday Times Festival of Education, is here.
To return to my theme of ignocracy, the thirteen signatories to Phonics Checks Will Not Improve Reading (Guardian letters, 21st June) are long on leftist clout, and short on experience of teaching children to read. Apart from Dr Bousted, their CVs mention British Gas, secondary economics teaching, the RSPCA, Oxfam, setting up IT companies, local authority bureaucracy, and of course writing books.
Alan Chatsworth taught in a primary school for eleven years, but apart from him I can find no significant experience of the activity at all. Ruth Miskin knows more about teaching reading than all of them put together. I was worried about the phonics check, on the grounds that non-words might confuse children. As these are now marked with a funny picture, this concern is answered, and I've seen results from three schools that show that valuable information and no distress.
The Communications Trust has published a very useful guide to using the check with children who have difficulties with language. This publication is also recommended on the government's website.