Children’s author and Book Trust President Michael Morpurgo believes that the current climate of testing in schools is killing the joy of reading for children and that the focus on reading needs to move back to simply learning to love the act of reading rather than the rules.
At the inaugural Book Trust Annual Lecture at London’s Guildhall later this month Morpurgo will tell his audience of educationalists and publishers that he believes schools are being pressured into “teaching literacy fearfully” and more rigorous testing at primary school age (which sparked parent protests earlier this year) is killing the joy of reading for many youngsters.
Ministers claim that the more tests that children undertake the more likely it is that those who are at risk of falling behind will be picked up on at an early stage and extra help given, with the testing not needing to be stressful to the child in the slightest but Morpurgo disagrees.
“When you fail it brings only a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness.” he has been quoted as saying.
“It brings fear and shame and anxiety.
“It separates you from those who have passed, rocks confidence, ruins self-esteem.”
When you fail a test: “You disappoint yourself, disappoint others. You give up,”
These are some of the points Morpurgo is expected to raise at the lecture, reinforcing his opinion that the incessant school testing reinforces an “almost an apartheid system of a kind in this country… Between those who read, who, through books, through developing an enjoyment of literature, can have the opportunity to access the considerable cultural and material benefits of our society – and those who were made to feel very early on that the world of words, of books, of stories, of ideas, was not for them, that they were not clever enough to join that world, that it was not the world they belonged to, that it was shut off from them forever.”
Morpurgo believes that the government’s obsession with “measurable outcomes and results” continues to reinforce a “great divide” that is “shamefully still there”, with far too many children still being failed by both the education system and the government. He believes that early failings have long term impacts on children who do not do well in standardised test situations;
“Our prisons are full of them… Many remain lonely and marginalised all their lives.”
“The right book, the right author, the right parent, the right teacher, the right librarian at the right time, might have saved some of them at least, made the difference, shone a light into a dark life, turned that life around.”
So what is Michael Morpurgo’s solution?
According to BBC News he is expected to call for:
- Parents to read to their children every night
- A half hour “story time” at the end of the school day
- A halt to library closures.
However ministers have stated that it is vitally important for children to master the basics of reading, writing and maths early on, so that they do not fall behind and have introduced a “new more challenging national curriculum” which was brought into England’s schools in September 2014.
“Assessment has always been an important part of education – we know the tests are harder and we are asking more, but we’re doing that because we are committed to ensuring opportunity for all,” said a spokesperson for the Department for Education.
“Tests should not be a cause of stress for pupils - they are there to help teachers understand where children may need more support and we trust teachers to approach testing in a proportionate manner.”
Perhaps it would be better to teach our children to love reading before perfecting the mechanics of it.