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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