King In The Classroom – Caution Here Be Dragons !

Finally the STA have revealed their exemplar materials for Key Stage 1 reading and boy did it not go down well. If you have even a passing interest in the goings on at the STA or the education sphere in general you are bound to have heard the furore over the material and children used that are in theory meant to supply an idea of the level that children need to be working at if they are to be assessed at the greater depth standard. Now quite why the DFE decided to use the fourth installment of the Harry Potter phenomenon as evidence of high level Year 2 reading is anybody’s guess. It is worth noting here the other two books chosen for evidence were George’s Marvellous Medicine and one of The Just So Stories, a little different to our wizarding teen. Anyway the choices of the STA are not mine to question, many more learned and experienced colleagues will do that for me I am sure.

No, what concerns me more than anything is the idea of a Government office officially stamping something clearly not age appropriate, as a good example of a text for 7 year-olds. Pushing inappropriate texts too early in a child’s education is dangerous. Teachers up and down the country who are a little unsure of their own judgement, perhaps working in a one form school and perhaps eagerly examining the guidance will now be worried that their genuinely greater depth children well, aren’t. Even if they are!

This desire to force books onto children before they are emotionally ready for them is one that way may not see the consequences of for years to come. And what is the need? Really, is there one? Why does this child, who is without doubt, an exceptional reader, need to read that book at such a young age? True she can decode the words, true she understands some of the intonation. But is that all that matters to us as educators now? Is it a race to the top of the literature tree? Regardless of content, regardless of concerns for the child’s welfare or wish to actually live in their own childhood world for a little longer?

With the introduction of the new curriculum we undoubtedly made things harder for our children, raised the bar and with it the need to achieve more to reach it. This isn’t an argument against challenging text or a call to ban those that have the slightest darkness amongst their themes. However, it is a call for us to take a step back sometimes, to consider and think about the fact that children spend many a year in education. They have many chances to read Harry Potter or Lord of the Flies and they have many years to read challenging books that don’t require a good understanding of death and torture.

The DFE were wrong and perhaps even naïve to hold up this child as an example of the standard, let’s be honest she is far beyond it. But I feel they did so genuinely because this is what is becoming the norm in so many classrooms, a rampant force feeding of books that often have movie adaptations with certificates far beyond the readers age (worth noting when Goblet of Fire first came out it was given a 12 age rating). A government agency endorsing a 7 year-old reading a book that was rated a 12 when it became a film? This attitude of fast and hard reading is dangerous, it is setting our children up to fail and it is not helping them fully broaden their understanding and knowledge of complex texts. As reading teachers we must be the balance against this, for without a thorough knowledge of books, how do you know what is appropriate?