Now for the “Don’t s”. The cause of perhaps most of today’s failure comes from two ideas.

(1) Schonell 1945 said we do not look at each letter: we do and we must. He said we read words from their outline shape – we cannot. Cats oats cuts cots eats all have the same shape!

How many teachers give a list of “ten words to learn by Friday” ? 400 words a year? But if the pupil understands decoding, he will be able to read thousands of words by year-end.

(2) Guessing has been official policy for decades, that pupils should guess from the first letter, first and last, from picture, context,… and since this works now and then, teacher and pupil accepted it. But it does NOT work many, many times and makes the pupil see reading as a kind of torture, uncertainty. It is a major cause of frustration because it DOES NOT WORK.

Don’t give up on common sense. How many teachers have felt that look-say was not working and raised their heads above the parapet only to be shot down by conforming LEAs? Teacher training and LEAs are to blame for 95% of today’s failure, - and STILL politicians trust them! Chris Woodhead truly said that education is “ a heavily policed thought world”, and the LEAs do most of the policing. They hold many carrots, many sticks to give or withhold funds and promotion. Parents and strugglers have nowhere to turn. Education is specifically excluded from the brief of the Ombudsman. I tried to use the council’s complaints procedure and got a reply from…. the LEA !

And still “professional learning” is made to sound good! Do teachers really need “continuing professional development” in such simple fields? Just let in common sense!

How many teachers, passionate, hard-working, have quit teaching because their pupils fail? They have followed their (mis)training, done their best, and they just get dreary hours of failure.

Literacy is the rising tide that lifts all ships. Even at the OLMOS (1 letter- 1 sound) stage, no end of names in an atlas can be read: India, Atlantic, Popocatepetl (and let the lesson wander off into geography, volcanoes…). This gives a point to learning to read for LIFE! You can make Bingo for names of fruit, animals, football teams, countries, rivers/mountains, cities, plants. A very popular one (to my surprise) is cooking ingredients. In contrast, pop groups fell flat!

Bingo only calls for reading one (or two) words at a time. There is no context to guess. And I do not hurry. I sit and wait calmly while the pupil puzzles it out. He nearly always does, and then I praise. But if I had told the word, the unspoken message is that he cannot do it himself! However slowly, if he gets it right himself, this is a tiny drop boosting his pride, self-confidence – and it gets faster.

Shared reading has been prominent, to the point that parents expect to be given a “reading book”. Parents had shared books with a 10 yr old, for 5 years, with no benefit. On phonics he got going. Some children will learn, whatever we do. The reduction, indeed eradication, of failure can be a better guide than average results. Instead of thinking poverty causes failure, think that learning to read is the ladder out of the pit. The so-called “dimwits” are mostly not dim and can include really able children – if they could read. And nothing else will compensate for illiteracy.

Forget SATs. They have been a blunt instrument with an easy 100 as top marks, concealing all excellence. We should go back to the old reading tests (Burt, Young’s, NFER, Holborn, etc.) They give a reading age for the children, and we can calculate a reading quotient for individuals, schools, LEAs and the country. The national average of 100 has been a good 15 points (one standard deviation) below potential for years.