President's blog

Back To The Wrong Future at the LIBDEM Conference

I don’t know whether you spotted the announcements at the LIBDEM conference  last week about the pupil premium.

First we had Sarah Teather announce an increase to the pupil premium:

Then the next day Nick Clegg decided how much of the new money should be spent:

 Mr. Clegg referred to 'catching pupils up with their literacy' in a fortnight's summer school.

It does strike me we have been before with summer schools for 11 year olds and it didn’t work the last it was tried in 1997. The NFER evaluated the impact of and concluded the following:

Summer Literacy Schools were introduced as a pilot scheme by the Government in the summer of 1997 in an attempt to improve children's literacy skills at the age of 11, the time of transfer from primary to secondary education. The initiative was evaluated by collecting the pupils’ results from the national test taken in May and comparing these with results of a similar test administered in September. Results for a control group who had not attended summer schools were also analysed. The analysis revealed that the scores of both groups declined significantly between the pretest and the posttest, and no significant difference in the extent of the decline was found between the summer school pupils and the control group. Further research is needed on the possibility that the transition from primary to secondary school is associated generally with a significant decline in attainment.

( see )


Thus we have a government that doesn’t seem to want to learn from the past, continues to subject schools to central dictat about spending, contradicting its own rhetoric about autonomy, and ignoring the fact that spending on early intervention is far more effective. Allocating the £50m to, for example, expanding Reading Recovery as a guarantee to all schools would have a far greater effect, as the research also shows.

Let me know what you think.


( now Immediate Past President - so I need to change the name of the blog!)



Looking for the Heart of English

UKLA members will be interested to know that there is currently an initiative, independent of government, to gather grass-roots views of what is central to English: what is really the core or 'heart' of English? The idea is to distill these views and make them public in the hope of that they will enable a critical engagement with the revised national curriculum for English when it is published in draft form sometime early in 2012, to be implemented from September 2013.

The idea is for interested individuals, friends, networks, departments, schools, student groups and so on to discuss some core questions and share ideas, start debates and report back on your discussions. The core team will then review and draw together the findings from all the different groups to:

  • set out the core principles underpinning excellent English provision on which a curriculum could be based
  • outline ideas for how these could be brought to life in the classroom and beyond
  • provide a solid foundation for effective curriculum planning, a benchmark to review and audit the quality and vision of current practice and a means of identifying CPD needs
  • establish a blueprint for better English assessments, tests and qualifications
  • empower teachers and give them the confidence to shape an exciting, forward looking curriculum that will capture the imagination of learners and inspire a life-long love of English.

It sounds a great idea to me and I would love to see UKLA members encouraging their colleagues, their students and their friends to get involved in this discussion, in particular colleagues with a primary background. We know some regional and LA based events have already taken place so interest is building.

ITE departments might want to have ago too.

All the information and documentation you need to get going can be found here:

There is a PowerPoint presentation there too.

Let me know if you organize an event.


Phonics test given the go ahead by ministers.

You may have missed the announcement as it slipped out on the same day as the intervention in Libya kicked off and the reaction to the austerity budget was dominating the press.

The announcement and the justification are available here:


Reading the report my initial reactions are as follows:


1. There was a high level of individual responses to the consultation; well over 1000. The responses were overwhelmingly against the imposition of this test and its content. For example 64% were opposed to the use of non words and 66% were opposed to the narrow focus on phonics. 68% were not happy that the results would be published in RAISEonline. Yet the government will press ahead with NO changes to the original proposals in these areas.

What is the point in having a consultation if the views expressed and evidence submitted are completely ignored?


2. The introduction by Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, begins by waxing fulsome about reading for pleasure but then implicitly suggests  that  more systematic phonics will promote this. Where is the evidence that even more synthetic phonics leads to increased levels of pleasure in reading?


3. Nick Gibb is wrong when he states phonics is the most effective way for children to read words(p3). It should state that phonics is the most effective way of reading many words, but is not sufficient to read words such as the, come, once, where a ‘look and say’ approach is needed. When will this very simple fact be acknowledged in government documents?


4. On the positive side it is clear our campaign against the test has had an effect. The introduction is full of statements such as We all want children to read fluently for comprehension and pleasure, so that they can access the rest of the curriculum and develop a lifelong love of books.


Children should always be taught phonics as part of a language rich curriculum, so that they develop their wider reading skills at the same time.

I don’t believe that these statements would have been made if it hadn’t been for the pressure by UKLA and others through the consultation and lobbying.


The campaign against this unwelcome and unhelpful test will continue.


I would be very interested to hear from you about how we can move forward and build a campaign drawing on the widest possible support.


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