Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter and stay ahead with the latest news in independent education
Michael Morpurgo speaking yesterday

Schools testing kills joy of reading, says War Horse author

Michael Morpurgo calls for schools to make time for stories by reinstating storytime in primary schools

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 22, 2016 | People, policy, politics

War Horse author and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Morpurgo, has criticised testing in schools for killing the joy of reading, creating fear and anxiety, and bringing about a sense of worthlessness in children. 

The former Children’s Laureate and President of BookTrust, speaking at the inaugural BookTrust Lecture on the evening of 21st September, said we are all as a society responsible “both for the successes and failures of our literacy and our society.” Morpurgo said that it is not just the fault of successive governments, “who corral schools and pressure teachers into teaching literacy fearfully, who insist that measurable outcomes and results are the be all and end all of the education process.” 

Michael Morpurgo said that the teaching of reading in schools can take the wonder out of stories and turn them into a subject for comprehension tests, handwriting tests and grammar tests in which at least as many children fail as succeed, leading children to give up. 

Morpurgo is calling for every primary school to reinstate Storytime at the end of every school day, and make it: “a special time, a fun time, devoted entirely to reading, to writing, to storytelling, to drama. No testing, no comprehension, no analysis, no interrogation. Let the children go home dreaming of the story, reliving it, wondering. All that matters at that early age is that they learn to love it, that they want to listen to more stories, read them, tell them, write them, act them out, sing them, dance them. All the rest will come later, the literacy side of things, which is important, once that seed is sown. Children have to want to learn. So give them the love of story first; the rest will follow.” 

He pointed to: “an apartheid system of a kind in this country, between haves and have-not children, between those who read, who through books, through developing an enjoyment of literature, can have the opportunity to access the considerable cultural and material benefits of our society; and those who were made to feel very early on that the world of words, of books, of stories, of ideas, was not for them, that they were not clever enough to join that world, that it was not the world they belonged to, that it was shut off from them for ever. 

 “Our prisons are full of them, full of those we have failed. Many remain lonely and marginalised all their lives. The right book, the right author, the right parent, the right teacher, the right librarian, at the right time, might have saved some of them at least, made the difference, shone a light into a dark life, turned that life around.” 

The BookTrust charity’s Annual Lecture has been launched to give a platform for debate around children’s reading. BookTrust’s Time to Read campaign is calling for families and schools to support children in developing a love of reading, keeping shared reading alive even when children are ‘too old’ for a bedtime story. Research shows that as children start school, reading enjoyment starts to slip; by the time they are ten or eleven reading as a pastime has been superseded by social media and screen time. On average, 78% of children age 5-7 read to themselves at least once a week, compared to 53% of 11-13 year olds and 38% of 14-17 year olds. 

BookTrust Chief Executive, Diana Gerald, says: “Children who enjoy reading are happier, healthier; they are more empathetic, do better academically, and do better in life generally. But reading enjoyment doesn’t just happen; it needs to be encouraged, by parents, teachers and librarians. Children need to be supported to find the book that gets them hooked – whether that book is a Dickens classic, a turn-pager thriller, or a story about football, Minecraft, zombies or witches. The important thing is to give children a choice, and to support that choice.

“Reading isn’t a tick list of books that need to have been read; nor is it just a skill to be learned then filed away. Literacy can, and should be tested; reading for pleasure needs to be nurtured, and seen more like exercise – do it as regularly as you can, make it fun, and read together whenever possible for maximum benefits.”    

Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter and stay ahead with the latest news in independent education

Related stories

Get set for education's Glastonbury

Balance of opinion

Schools hit by ransomwares demands

Preparing for the Internet of Everything

Barriers to edtech

Trent College brings local schools together with netball tournament

Digital devices in schools - integral but it has its risks

Spend or splurge? Schools to receive financial education

Rock on with Shakespeare!

How was it for you?

Market place - view all

Raging Bull

Rugby heritage clothing brand; brought to you by Rugby Legend Phil ...

Holroyd Howe

Holroyd Howe is one of the UK's leading contract caterers. We provi...

Red sky

We’re the UK’s leading independent solar installer, hel...

OKI

OKI is a global B2B printer manufacturer dedicated to creating cost...

Casio Electronics Co Ltd

Casio is a market-leading global electronics manufacturer. It launc...

Middleton

Middleton Food Products

The complete range of catering, food...