2017
02.01

The Guardian
Tuesday 31 January 2017

Andy McNab says joyless education is damaging poor children’s literacy

Bravo Two Zero author, who didn’t learn to read until he was 16, says his experience working in schools shows that a box-ticking approach to tuition inhibits reading skills of the less privileged

Government literacy policy that emphasises grammar over enjoyment is discriminating against poor children and has contributed to England’s position at the bottom of a ranking of reading ability in developed nations, according to SAS soldier-turned-bestselling writer Andy McNab.

The Bravo Two Zero author, a reading ambassador for the literacy charity the Reading Agency, said children in failing schools were hit by a double whammy because teachers had no time to encourage the enjoyment of reading because their time was taken up “box-ticking” for Ofsted inspections and dealing with students’ basic needs. “The whole educational system is so clogged now that there is no time for teachers to encourage kids, and the enjoyment of reading is lost,” he said.

As a result, he said, children were leaving school with poor literacy and worse. Citing “failing” schools visited as part of his Reading Agency work, he said teachers’ time was taken up addressing the immediate needs of children from deprived backgrounds, who arrived in class dirty and hungry. He added: “By the time they were ready to start learning they had lost a third of the working day, so there was no time for them to just enjoy reading.”

McNab is a regular on the school circuit, and his work promoting literacy was recognised last year with the inaugural Ruth Rendell award. Teachers, he said, were frustrated, because they were being prevented from inspiring students with a passion for learning and reading. “There is so much compulsory stuff in the curriculum that it becomes like ticking boxes,” he added.

McNab, who did not learn to read until he joined the Army at 16, said that while the prescriptive curriculum was not a problem for children who were exposed to books at home, it left those from deprived backgrounds disadvantaged because they had few role models outside school to encourage them to read. “Kids from working-class families are being failed because they don’t come from a middle-class culture where everyone reads,” he said.

His comments come before Thursday’s launch of Quick Reads, a series of six short books..(..)

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