No evidence for GY Charter Academy’s law for ruler use when reading

Janet Downs's picture

Great Yarmouth Charter Academy, part of the Inspiration Trust, has become notorious for its strict behaviour policy especially the rule, now retracted, that pupils claiming to sick should be handed a bucket to spew into.  

But there is one feature of the academy discipline code which escaped notice.  It is this: 

When you read you always follow the text with your ruler, with both hands on the ruler. This helps you concentrate, so you remember more and understand more.

It’s unclear why this is a disciplinary matter.  And it doesn’t seem to be an educational one.  I could find no evidence which supports using a ruler in this way.  I tried the technique and found it an impediment.

But I’m a fluent reader.  Is there evidence that using a ruler to follow text, with one hand or two, helps concentration, recall and understanding when learning to read?  There is some evidence that using coloured rulers helps pupils struggling with dyslexia  but these are used as overlays not for following the text.

 I could find nothing – no anecdote or academic evidence - which endorsed following the text with a ruler.

A ruler used in the way laid down in GY Charter’s disciplinary code would be no help in developing the important reading skills of skimming and scanning.    It’s not always necessary to read every word to get the gist of a piece of writing.  There are times when close attention is needed – when following a difficult argument or when analysing a literary text, for example.  But there are other times when readers just need to spot the main idea. 

We are constantly told that schools should use ‘evidence-based’ strategies.  But GY Charter Academy doesn’t just mandate a technique which doesn’t appear to have an evidence base but makes it a disciplinary matter if pupils don’t use it.

ADDENDUM  The chair of Inspiration Trust,  Sir Theodore Agnew, has just been confirmed as successor to schools minister Lord Nash.   He, like Lord Nash before him, will be fast-tracked to the peerage to allow him to take his place in the Lords.  He has said he will give up chairmanship of Inspiration when he becomes minister. 

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Nicola Jack's picture
Sun, 01/10/2017 - 13:16

I would have thought it could well be an impediment to reading fluency and comprehension, since it reduces the 'flow' to line size chunks. I thought it was very odd when I read it......but then the whole document didn't sit right for me. I'm not sure, if I was the parent of a student at the school, that it would engender huge confidence.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 01/10/2017 - 13:30

The Michaela Community School, where the current head of GY Charter was deputy head, has a similar policy.

I'm at a loss to explain where this odd practice comes from.  As you say, it reduces the flow.  It's difficult to grasp the sense of a sentence if it's broken up into fractured lines.

Nairb1's picture
Mon, 02/10/2017 - 20:21

It's based on the fallacious view that when reading the brain is processing the word the reader is looking at. It isn't. It's anticipating, predicting, using cues to consider 'what is likely to come next.' This ridiculous policy will hamper fluent reading for enjoyment (sorry Mr Gibb I know decoding is the beginning and end of reading) and is another example of a simplistic 'tough' behaviour policy which is actually just following pointless rules because the school says so. Control not discipline.

Tatiana's picture
Tue, 03/10/2017 - 10:00

The whole policy document seems to be written by someone who has no idea of how people learn and obsessed with order: sit straight up, walk between lessons eyes front, etc. It reads as a text for psychology students to provide an analysis of the author's personality.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 03/10/2017 - 11:01

When Dame Rachel de Souza, CEO of Inspiration Trust, wrote to parents about the appointment of  Barry Smith as head of GY Charter, she said, 'I am sure you will be as impressed as I am with his constructive, compassionate approach to discipline.'

Constructive and compassionate aren't words that immediately spring to mind when reading GY Charter's approach to discipline.



Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/10/2017 - 13:31

I've found the 'evidence'!  It's Barry Smith's blog where he explains at length why following each word with a ruler and reading it alone is useful (nay, essential) in teaching French.  He dismisses the objection I gave above that following text with a ruler doesn't help with skimming or scanning (nevermind comprehension) by saying he can't skim or scan 'properly' when reading French despite being 'brilliant'.

The rationale, then, behind following a text with a ruler in all subjects and making it a disciplinary matter is partly based on Smith's experience in teaching French.   I say 'partly' because he believes  'given half a chance, most people are lazy buggers who’ll give up and do something more palatable when faced with the prospect of work.'

Most people?  Really?  And the evidence is...?   Ah, I know the answer - it's Smith's own view.

And that attitude, Dame Rachel says, is constructive and compassionate.


Nicola Jack's picture
Wed, 04/10/2017 - 14:50

Pretty unsubtle, eh? I've just retired from teaching, and my last two, part time, years have been spent teaching two 'bottom' sets the new GCSE English language and literature. Heaven knows how we would have made any meaning at all with the poetry if we'd been forced to use the line-by-line and a ruler method!

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/10/2017 - 14:58

Something like this perhaps:

















Reading each word singly drains all meaning from Owen's poem.  It destroys the poetry.

Nicola Jack's picture
Wed, 04/10/2017 - 16:47

What about this:-
'This wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
Or stocks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Storm on the Island (Seamus Heaney)

Nicola Jack's picture
Wed, 04/10/2017 - 16:49

Typo....'stocks' should be 'stooks'!

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/10/2017 - 16:51

Or Hamlet's soliloquy 

Nicola Jack's picture
Wed, 04/10/2017 - 17:14

Ha! We could go on for ever! I think, though, that we're thinking about interpreting texts rather than extracting information as in the examples given in the Barry Smith blog.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 13/10/2017 - 11:56

There is more controversy at Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. See

Parents and children have taken to the streets to protest plans to merge Trafalgar College, a school without a religious ethos, into the Christian Great Yarmouth Charter Academy.

Trafalgar College was opened last year to meet parental demand for school places in Great Yarmouth at a religiously neutral school with a sixth form. However, the proposed merger would see pupils at Trafalgar College relocate to the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy, which will retain its Christian character after the merger.

This effectively means that a non-religious school will be closed in order to expand a religious school.

I draw attention here to the fact that the 1870 Education Act gave more rights to parents to resist forced imposition of religious ideology onto their children, than have present day parents.

Parents have plenty of other reasons to be concerned about the forced transfer of their children to this Academy, as I write here

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 14/10/2017 - 09:25

The Additional Frequently Asked Questions section of Inspiration's consultation re the merger og Trafalgar and GY Charter says, 'The proposed merger means taking some elements from both sides: from Charter that includes its nondenominational Christian designation. Charter is not a faith school or a church school...'   

Although the academy doesn't have a faith criteria in its admission policy, the DfE database 'Get Information About Schools' says the religious character of GY Charter is 'Christian'.  This is an ambiguous designation.  A school must say whether it's CofE, RC, Muslim etc to be designated as a faith school.  But schools which just say they're 'Christian' aren't technically faith schools.   GY Charter says it's 'nondemonational Christian' (ie neither CofE or RC) but that description, although not technically a faith designation, still links the school with a faith.  This could deter parents who are of other faiths or none.  The protesting Trafalgar College parents clearly don't want their children going to a schools which links itself to a faith in this way.


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