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Monday, 7 May, 2001, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Anger over literacy lessons
pupil writing
The next target: Literacy in secondaries
By education correspondent Mike Baker

The government faces protests from specialist English teachers over plans to introduce its literacy strategy into secondary schools from September.

The National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) has warned ministers not to be "over prescriptive" in its plans to change the way English is taught to 11- to 14-year-olds.

In primary schools, the literacy strategy involves an hour of a work a day with children on the basics of reading and writing.

A pilot scheme for the literacy strategy for secondary schools is taking place this term in 17 local education authorities prior to being introduced in all schools next term.

Starter activity

In the pilot, the government does not specify the time a lesson should take but does recommend a lesson structure which involves beginning with what is described as a "starter activity" such as spelling or vocabulary lasting 10 to 15 minutes.

NATE says the new literacy strategy should not be allowed to take up more than 10% of English lessons in secondary schools.

Otherwise they fear the literacy element will swamp the wider subject of English.

Opposition to the literacy strategy from NATE could prove awkward for the government as it led the boycott of national curriculum tests a decade ago.

'Negative response'

A survey by NATE of English teachers in the pilot areas has found an overwhelmingly negative response to key parts of the new curriculum.

The survey - covering representatives of around 150 English departments - found 88% of respondents believed the new literacy strategy would have a "negative" effect on English teaching.

Only 35% believed the government's literacy strategy "either clarified or made more accessible the requirements of the National Curriculum".

NATE Assistant Secretary Bethan Marshall said teachers in some pilot areas "hated" the new approach and, if they were forced to teach it in full, would "dig their heels in".

NATE points out that Ofsted reports have found that three-quarters of English lessons are already good or better, with only 2% deemed "unsatisfactory".


Bethan Marshall says, in the light of this, it is "idiotic" to tell English teachers how to conduct their lessons.

She added that teachers were not entirely negative about the literacy strategy and were happy to regard it as helpful "guidance" so long as it was voluntary and took up no more than 10% of English lessons.

NATE points out that vacancy rates for teachers of English are already higher than the average for all secondary subjects and this could drive more specialist teachers out of the profession.

NATE says the number of teachers of English coming into the profession since the last election has fallen by 1500.

Success in primary schools

The government believes the literacy strategy in primary schools has been successful in raising standards.

It has just published results of an opinion poll suggesting 96% of primary head teachers support the literacy strategy.

The telephone poll of 500 head teachers, carried out by BMRB International, also found that 78% of respondents thought the strategy was raising overall standards of literacy.

The government wants to extend the literacy strategy to secondary schools from September 2001.

Although it is voluntary, NATE fears some local education authorities will be "over zealous" in the way they introduce it.

The BBC's education correspondent Mike Baker
"The government believes its literacy hour has been successful"
See also:

23 Mar 01 | Education
Heads' concern over 3Rs drive
07 Dec 00 | Education
Row over better school test results
16 Oct 00 | Education
Secondary schools in targets drive
01 Mar 01 | Education
Three Rs test for adults
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