Letter to Michael Gove

Dear Mr Gove

I have read the stories in the news about the government’s proposal for a compulsory reading list for primary school children, and I am asking you to reconsider.

I have had a love of books and reading all my life. From the time I could crawl, I headed towards my dad’s bookshelves and sat happily turning the pages of books I was incapable of understanding. By the time I was two, I was able to read them, and I have been reading in every spare minute I have ever since.

I have read everything from War and Peace to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and from Ovid (in Latin) to JK Rowling. I’ve read Asimov and Zola, Oscar Wilde and Lee Child, The Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Flies. But I’ve never read Of Mice and Men. And I never will. I’ve been told it’s a classic. I’m told it’s a fantastic book. I will never know for sure. Why not? Because when I was at secondary school, my well-intentioned English teacher forced me to read The Red Pony and The Pearl, and I hated them and I’m never going to read John Steinbeck again for as long as I live.

If being forced to read something has given a child who loved to read such a hatred that it is still with her 30 years later, just think what effect it would have on the minds of children who are already reluctant to pick up a book.

I agree that most primary school children need to read more, but we need to encourage them, not dictate to them.

As a teacher I have succeeded in turning children on to books. I have tempted them with books as varied as Percy Jackson and Tom Sawyer. I haven’t done it by forcing them to read; I have done it by reading them little snippets from books I thought they might enjoy, and then allowing them to choose whether or not they read the book.  I have been rewarded with comments such as, “Tom Sawyer is brilliant, Miss! Did this author write anything else?” and “I’ve finished all the Percy Jackson books. What else might I like?” Would I have achieved the same result by ordering them to read the books? I doubt it.

We’re all on the same side, and we all want our children to be better read. With this proposal the government can turn them into children who have read some books. Given the freedom to exercise our professional judgement, based on what we know of each individual child’s interests, we teachers can turn them into readers.

Sally-Jayne Braisby

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4 Responses to Letter to Michael Gove

  1. John Connor says:

    Hurrah! Spot on, Sally-Jane. This is just another baffling “idea plucked from the ether” by Gove. We have yet to discover how this fits in with the 50 book a year idea, the promotion of synthetic phonics as the only way to teach reading, and the swingeing cutbacks to the Bookstart scheme. He has one idea, trumpets it, then moves on to the next without reconciling the sometimes conflicting implications of each. His ideas have no basis in evidence or research, but are generally anecdotal and based on his own experience of schooling. He is the Mr Toad of the education community, completely enthused by the idea of the moment, but with no strategic overview apart from “Well what I did at school worked for me, so it must be right for everyone.” This is the devotee of history who famously misquoted JFK in a Teachers’ TV programme:
    “Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you.” This utterly misguided idea of a prescribed reading list for primary schools (what will be on it – Dryden, Manley Hopkins, Donne?) is so Stalinist that it smacks more of big government than big society. Why is Cameron not putting the brakes on this toxically dangerous idiot?

  2. Natacha says:

    Unfortunately, I suspect Gove will not reconsider for the very reasons you have given. He wants to stop the very process of learning to read, especially in terms of the motivation and inspiration children get from reading different books. He will take comfort from your comment about “Of Mice and Men” because I believe he WANTS to make education worse. It is not in the interest of his party or the people who back his party to have a well educated general populace. This is a deliberately destructive proposal. He knows exactly what he is doing.

  3. Fantastic post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with all you have said and I hope nothing comes of the proposal.

  4. A Parent says:

    SJ Braisby your letter is excellent. I am behind you 100%. As a child I was given books that I did not like and I have never enjoyed reading very much because of this. Having children of my own I exposed them to books at a very early age. A visit to the library was a joy to my children. They loved choosing their own books and had a natural love of reading which has remained with them into adulthood.

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