Dear Damian Hinds, you must be dying to correct Jeremy Hunt’s nonsense about children’s reading

Dear Damian,

It was interesting to see in last week’s Tory leadership voting that both you and your schools minister Nick Gibb had backed Michael Gove to be prime minister. Michael Rosen, children’s author and broadcaster writes in The Guardian.

Meanwhile, you must have been outraged, surely, by something your other colleague Jeremy Hunt, who beat Gove in the voting, said in the debate: 25% of primary school leavers are unable to read, he said. What a shock. All state primary school leavers have been taught to read according to the strict methods prescribed by Michael Gove and Nick Gibb. If Hunt is right, they are a terrible indictment of your own party’s favoured methods and record in government. Did you and Mr Gibb write to Mr Hunt to ask him for clarification on this matter or, if you thought it was an error, to ask him to withdraw it?

It is of course a nonsense that 25% of primary school children leave unable to read and this shows how schools, teachers and education are used by politicians at election time as a punch ball. Politicians say what they want and get away with it. Even so, as secretary of state for education, you must have been desperate to set the record straight. 

Your predecessors invented a test – the phonics screening check – to assess how well children were learning to decode. This isn’t a reading test because clearly it doesn’t test whether the children have understood anything. “The check focuses solely on decoding,” [pdf] the ministers said. At the end of primary school, the children have a reading test. They read a passage and answer right/wrong questions on it. These questions are about “retrieval, inference, chronology and presentation” which, it is claimed, show whether children understand what they read.

You’ll know, of course, that children are scoring in the 90s for the decoding test, but when those same children are tested five years later for reading they are reaching the “expected level” of around 75%. This is where Hunt got confused. He thinks that 25% not being at the expected level is the same as saying they are “unable to read”. This is certainly not true.

Nigh on every child can “decode” by age five or six, yet when the same children are 10 or 11, some of the decoders don’t understand what they’re reading. How does that happen? You don’t suppose it is because we are not spending enough time in primary schools enjoying real books and chatting about them because we are too busy preparing for the tests politicians impose and then misrepresent?

Read more Dear Damian Hinds, you must be dying to correct Jeremy Hunt’s nonsense about children’s reading 

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin


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Categories: DfE, Exams, Infant, Learning, Primary and Teaching.


  1. Darnelle Constant-shepherd

    Oh Micheal Rosen, the voice of reason, educationally and academically informed because he gets his hands and beautiful mind into the work that needs to be done to make generations readers and not decoders. Bravo Micheal Rosen. You are our shining star!

  2. Kasia Fejcher-Akhtar

    Reading is both decoding and comprehension. Whereas the first one becomes automatic, it is the wider world understanding that is the base for effective deduction and inferences. How are we to get there with budgets in red and schools misrepresented and forced to comply with the government imposed policies.

  3. Phil E

    This is the trouble with politicians, they lie and get away with it. Lies damn lies and statistics without recourse.
    In any other profession lying would have retributions. We do over test our students, league tables cause more problems than they solve and OFSTED, don’t get me started.
    It is comprehension that students don’t always grasp, I believe reading is really strong in the UK. Knowing how to read a word is not enough. Let children enjoy books is the key!

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