‘We need to act before we end up with a generation of literature-phobic pupils’

And Year 9 is the perfect place to inspire, build confidence and re-engage students with unprejudiced reading of non-exam texts, writes one head of English in Tes. 

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman recently continued to share her rationale for a richer curriculum in schools. As an English teacher immersed in his third incarnation of GCSE specification, I cannot do anything but agree with her comments on the “flimsy knowledge” gained at key stage 3, and the ongoing concern about the “cannibalization” of Year 9 into KS4.

For too many schools, the pressure of yet another progress- and assessment-related hoop to jump through is creating another generation of literature-phobic young people.

But what do you do with Year 9? And how do we try to reverse the clearest barrier to success in all curriculum areas: the ability to read a broad range of texts, regardless of subject?

To get a Level 9, the new GCSEs in English require students to have a breadth of reading experience that is previously unheard of, and that should scare even the most comfortable of coasting grammar schools.

For years, teachers have complained about the failure of KS4 and KS5 students to read sufficient amounts to tackle the rigours of academic studies at A level and beyond, but when offered a chance to develop something, we hold onto exam practice over reading practice.

Year 9 should be a challenge: a reading challenge. A foundation year for the exam restrictions ahead to build resilience with texts that inspire and build confidence in reading and the ability to write in response. Year 6 Sats work hard to suck the life out of the subject, but KS3 offers an opportunity to regain that love of reading in students who love to tell stories of their worlds – just maybe not in paperback form.

 I don’t believe that a student with English as an additional language, or other reasons for low literacy, cannot access a text. We just need to put our money where our mouths are and actually differentiate: let’s adapt our methods to help students access different elements of the text depending on their ability. We haven’t got time to avoid the issue of reading in our classrooms as the changing screen-based culture renders our exam system obsolete – we have to teach some old-fashioned book learning. Take a good book, get them to read it, help them to fear less and to strive for more.

Read the full article ‘We need to act before we end up with a generation of literature-phobic pupils’

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

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