Of course, World Book Day is almost here and my Professor Trelawney glasses, cloak and wig will soon be brought down from the box on top of the wardrobe. The enthusiasm for all sorts of narratives and other texts hopefully remains.
Stimulating a real desire to read books has never been more important. Evidence is clear: teenagers read very little, and many finish secondary education without having read a whole book since they were at primary school. Secondary teachers in all subjects rely almost totally on text-excerpts, and so the need to read a complete book simply does not arise. I am horrified in my GCSE maths classes, when my students assure me that they confidently anticipate really good grades in English without having read more than specified extracts from the set texts.
For primary teachers, it might seem as if none of this is our problem. After all, our job is to get them reading; if they never choose to engage in this activity after leaving primary, then so be it. They are losing out, but what can you do?
I would argue that we cannot wriggle so easily off the hook. The role of good primary education is not just to get children decoding written text, but also to inspire them to read. They should leave primary school at 11 not just knowing how to make sense of a short text, but wanting to share books – books of all types: fiction and non-fiction, short and long, virtual and in-the-hand.
On top of the individual benefits, reading has wider social importance. By giving children the chance to inhabit the lives of others and ‘walk around in their shoes', books written by authors from a wide range of backgrounds and persuasions stimulate empathy and understanding. I strongly suspect that a society where young people are not reading is not likely to be either a compassionate or a democratic one.
Primary teachers argue that the pressure from OFSTED and the apparently unceasing demands for data and evidence do not create an educational environment where the value of reading books is likely to be topmost in the agenda of either children or teachers. We are all more concerned with ticking boxes or learning SPaG. BUT Hamilton English provides the counterexample. We can tick the relevant boxes, succeed in the SPaG assessments AND have wonderful children’s books at the heart of all our English teaching. All the blocks in Hamilton English have high-quality books as their stimulus and each unit, whether grammar, comprehension or extended writing is inspired by a love of children’s literature. Pupils will want to read these texts – they will fight over the books. What’s more, with all the materials and resources provided, including Grammar and Punctuation Presentations, you are still able to… Save Your Sundays!