Should there be a rule preventing MPs from repeating questions that have already been adressed many times in the current Parliamentary session?
On 24 June, Tory MP Dr Caroline Johnson lobbed schools minister Nick Gibb an easy query about ‘teaching early literacy through phonics’.
The exchange didn’t end with Gibb’s predictable repetition of reading test performance data. Dr Johnson went on to praise the minister’s ‘phonics changes’.
The systematic teaching of phonics was ‘a good base’ being offered by ‘the Government’, she said. But it isn’t the present government who introduced such teaching. It wasn’t even the Coalition. It was Labour, back in 2007.
Dr Johnson followed Gibb’s previously-set example and Ignored the inconvenient truth that phonics teaching was already embedded in English schools by 2010. She implied post-2010 policies were responsible for improved performance in the 2016 international reading tests (PIRLS). Results were ‘up from joint 10th in 2011, and well up from the low of 19th position under a Labour Government’.
The MP doesn’t seem to understand that the 10-year-olds who took the 2011 PIRLS test would have learnt to read when Labour was in power. The ‘low’ may have been when Labour was in government but it was children mainly educated under Labour whose performance jumped to 10th place five years later.
Dr Johnson’s snipe at Labour ignores three things:
1 The UK Statistics Watchdog has previously expressed concern about the government’s handling of PIRLS 2016 data. Dr Johnson is either unaware of UKSA's criticism or has chosen to brush it aside.
2 PIRLS analysis co-authored by the Department for Education said it was too hasty to claim policy changes since 2010 had contributed to England’s rise in PIRLS.
Recycling questions which have already been answered on several occasions waste Parliamentary time. There are more pressing issues, surely, than making room for MPs to soft soap ministers.