Headteacher pleads for reading time
Children should spend a "peaceful" hour in school each day reading a book, a headteachers' leader is suggesting.
Spending time reading a novel would help youngsters to enjoy reading, and do more to improve their skills than "frantic coaching to the test", according to Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).
In a new blog, he says there is no complete answer to what children should read, and argues for primary schools to publish their own lists of the books pupils will read by the time they leave at age 11.
This would be more useful than lists of activities designed to promote British values.
Mr Hobby says that there is nothing more important than being able to read well, but adds that successive policies designed to teach children to read - such as the current promotion of phonics - which focuses on using sounds rather than recognising whole words - and the last government's Literacy Hour - tend to drive towards learning the technical side of reading, and away from stories.
There is evidence that phonics works for teaching the largest amount of children to decode words, he acknowledges, but it does not work for every child and decoding is not the only part of reading.
"The official advocation of phonics has at times appeared to risk caricature when it neglects the development of vocabulary and the habits of storytelling," Mr Hobby argues.
In the early years, when children are in nursery and infants school, there need to be a focus on speaking and listen, he says.
"In the older years of primary school, I think the trouble is that children just don't read enough. We should strip back the social engineering and the constant initiatives forced on schools and just spend time reading.
"What if in every school every pupil spent an hour a day reading fiction from the ages of seven to 11? What if teachers could settle down alongside them and read too? A peaceful time but an immensely productive one. Ironically, this would lift standards far more than frantic coaching to the test. What burdens could be lifted off schools to make this practice widespread?"
Mr Hobby goes on to say that there are many arguments about "canon" - the books that children should read.
"What should a well-educated child have read by age 11? There is no complete answer. What if every primary school created and published its own canon? These are the books your child will have read by the time they leave and here's why we think they're great.
"I'd rather see this on a school website than a list of activities to promote British values. And I'd learn far more about the school."
Ministers announced earlier this year in the wake of investigations into the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham that in future, all schools will be required to ''actively promote'' British values such as democracy, tolerance, mutual respect, the rule of law and individual liberty.
Speaking as the blog was published, Mr Hobby said that he was not against teaching technical aspects of reading.
But he added: "The danger is, if all you do is practice analysing different sentences then it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure."
The union leader also suggested that more room could be made in schools for reading, if there was a reduction in the demands on schools' time.
School Reform Minister Nick Gibb said that the new English curriculum has a much greater focus on reading and states that schools should encourage children to read for pleasure.
"The introduction of the phonics check is a key part of our plan to eradicate illiteracy by keeping children on track and quickly identifying any who are struggling with reading," he said.
"Three years after we introduced it, evidence shows that 100,000 more children have become more confident, proficient readers as a result."