LONDON, Nov 18 (Reuters) The Conservatives unveiled plans today to ensure every child should be able to read by the age of six.
Michael Gove, the Tory shadow children, schools and family secretary, said the party believed that children should have mastered the building blocks of reading after two years of primary school.
However, one teaching union said setting targets for young children flew in the face of international research.
''Unless (children) learn to read properly they won't be able to read to learn subsequently, and this is the key foundation stone on which the rest of learning is built,'' Gove told BBC TV.
''We want to introduce a simple test which means at the end of two years of primary school we know whether or not children have mastered the skills they need to read.
''Once children have got that skill, then teachers are free to inspire them, and children are free to read and explore on their own.'' Chris Davis of the National Primary Headteachers' Association said research had shown that children developed at different rates, and some only ''took off'' at the age of seven or eight having been behind national averages at an earlier age.
''Evidence from around the world and in the recent primary review about children who begin formal education too early, shows that can be detrimental because they are not ready to cope with that sort of work,'' he told Reuters.
He said it could have the negative effect of putting off children.
''They can feel they are failing when basically they are not failing at all,'' he said. ''They can get in their heads that they can't do something and often the child will then decide if they can't do it, the best thing is not to do it.'' Schools secretary Ed Balls said the Conservatives would ''turn the clock back'' by going back to set tests and that the main focus should be on teaching children through phonics.
''There is nothing new in what the Tories have hastily cobbled together this weekend,'' he told the Observer.
Lib Dem schools spokesman David Laws said the policy risked ''treating schools as educational factory farms''.
About one in five 11-year-old children fail to reach the required reading standard expected at their age.
A report earlier this month said that the government's National Literacy Study had cost 553 million pounds from 1998-2005 but had had little impact on reading levels.
REUTERS SZ VC1836