3.5 Educational arguments which irritate me.

1. The phonic check, we’re told, ensures we spot the 20% of society who are functionally illiterate.

Yet one of the arguments against it says children who can already read make the nonsense words into real ones. Or, like Lucy Powell MP’s daughter, who can read really well, still failed the check. I’m told these children (despite any research I’ve read showing if children can read at 5 their literacy and academic achievement is likely to be excellent) have hidden phonic difficulties and will need to know the alphabetic code because there might be a really, really, really long word they can’t decode one day. Knowing the phonemes in the year 1 phonic check will stop this problem that isn’t actually a problem. If it is a problem, these students who can read but fail the phonics check are definitely not going to be in the 20% this check is designed to identify. Indeed they’ll be the students who can read and spell whatever method is used.

2. Those who criticise most vociferously OFSTED and its grading system because it criticises how teachers teach, seem to be the most critical of how teachers teach if it isn’t the way they want teachers to teach.

3. The ‘every second counts’ clan spend much energy telling us how students must be on task all the time and we can’t waste a second making puppets or posters; we will let the children down and they will be doomed for all eternity. Teachers who do group work are wasting children’s time which is precious, precious, precious. 

Mention private schools however and they’re all – marvellous, marvellous, marvellous. But private schools have longer holidays and sporting trips and drama activities which take time out of the curriculum. It’s not a problem to miss an afternoon’s school for a rugby match but I’m not allowed to make a puppet in a state school English lesson.

3.5 Similarly this ‘every second counts’ doesn’t seem to include the children who are excluded – they can be off as long as they like because they’re ruining the education for others. It’s also likely this cohort fall into the 20% functionally illiterate category but let’s not worry about that; someone else should be sorting that out.

Correlation and Causation – PX and Prison 

Correlation doesn’t equal Causation 

I had my first holiday Twitter spat on Saturday (I know I couldn’t even last one day). 

It was on permanent exclusions. After a tweet from the Prison Reform Trust arguing the case for criminal leniency for children in care, I drew a comparison with the fate of students excluded from school. 

Lord Laming who undertook the report, was on Radio 4 earlier this week with one example of the police being called because a child in care had taken food from a fridge without permission. 

This story horrified me; I look at my kids who have all done much worse and weep at the idea of them in the care system if my husband and I died. Statistically I know they’re likely to be separated as there are four of them; I know my son at 13 will be the hardest to place and having identical twins, they’d be kept together surely? But if they weren’t, the separation would be doubly damaging, so strong is their bond. 

I also know if one of them had SEN it would place further pressure on the care system and any behaviour issues (two are feisty, two compliant) would be dealt with more severely than we would at home. My goodness, if it’s food out the fridge; I may as well have 999 on speed dial. 

A criminal record for children in care, Lord Laming argues is assuring a future burden on society.

Back then to my Twitter spat; I claimed 47% (although probably a higher proportion as this includes non care system kids) of them, if excluded, were likely to end up in prison. This is the percentage of the prison population who have been permanently excluded from school. 
I was picked up here (probably fairly as I jump on anyone blaming parents for language and literacy difficulties using correlation as cause) because it doesn’t necessarily mean that those 47% wouldn’t end up in prison anyway and that schools may have done everything they could to prevent the exclusion. Fair enough, mea culpa.

My point though was that the label of being permanently excluded is as damaging as the criminal record Lord Laming was criticising. He’s not asking these to be lifted for dangerous criminals but for the petty  instances, allowing care children the best start in adult life.

Many excluded children have: 

SEN 

experienced bereavement 

witnessed domestic violence

been sexually abused

been physically abused

There is a similar pattern for prisoners and with whopping percentages of language and literacy difficulties among the prison community.

Yet, we may not see these children as victims and neither will society when they have a criminal record and permanent exclusion stamped on their forehead before the age of 16. 

Can’t we do better for these kids? Find models known to work and replicate them? These children matter and are society’s responsibility.

http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk
http://troublesofyouth.pbworks.com/f/occ71-exclusion.pdf (75% of excluded pupils end up with a criminal conviction)

 http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk

Dear Mr Gibb

Guest post from Director of Literacy at the Aspire Education Trust, Megan Dixon @DamsonEd.

On this report:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/434820/RB418_Phonics_screening_check_evaluation_final_report_brief.pdf

Dear Mr Gibb,
Firstly I wish to say thanks for allowing the publication of today’s report into the Phonics Screening Assessment It makes very interesting reading as I am sure you will agree.

I am pleased that we have made improvements in our phonics teaching including “faster pace, longer time, more frequent, more systematic, and better ongoing assessment” (p7). You must be pleased that we teachers are more accepting of the check and have adapted our teaching to ensure that more children pass.  

But there seems to be a problem. It seems that despite all our hard work, making sure we do exactly what you have told us to do, the attainment and progress of children as readers and writers has not improved. Improvements have not led to impact on attainment.

I am disappointed in this. You assured us that if we spent thousands on special resources and training, stuck rigidly to prescribed schemes of work and lesson plans and drilled our children endlessly in segmenting and blending alien words, all children would read. You claimed that was what the evidence said. Well, you must have been mistaken. Maybe you were confusing reading decoding words with reading? Maybe you misunderstood the complexity of learning to read?

As someone who is often involved in helping schools improve, I know that if something doesn’t work, you should change it. Can I make a few suggestions that might have more impact?

1. The money might be better spent developing speech and language for all children. As the Bercow review (2006) noted, many teachers do not feel equipped to support SLC development in their classrooms. As up to 50% of children who start school do not have oral language skills at age related expectations (I CAN), that might be an important focus. It might help them understand the books they read.

2. Give schools money to buy more books – real ones, with proper stories, by proper authors. – this might help children understand how stories work, how books work and how to use the phonics we have always been teaching them (successfully!). Professor Usha Goswami suggests that good phonemic awareness develops as children learn to read (not before) – so maybe we might improve standards that way too?

3. Encourage teachers to focus on the metacognition and self-regulation of reading and writing. The Sutton Trust -EFF highlights metacognition as very effective and very cheap! Maybe we could show teachers how to help children use what they know, evaluate their performance and set new goals, (not just teach them more stuff)? We could help teachers understand just how complex reading is. I find Scarborough’s rope model helps to explain the challenges. I like the way it distinguishes the alphabetic principle from phonological awareness.

I’ll help if you like.

Best wishes,

Megan