This is 2014 for goodness sake. This is not the 19th century, but the 21st: not a remote Amazonian district, but Britain. And our schools, incredibly, are full of students who cannot read well.
This is appalling and utterly disgraceful. Without this basic tool, our young people will never be able to access good jobs, and enjoy the riches of the extraordinary field of human knowledge, made more available than ever in history through the internet. We all need to act together as never before to make ignorance history.
This is my final year of 20 in running schools. Last week I gave my final address to my students at both Wellington College and Wellington Academy on what they might want to achieve this year. What have I learnt over those years? Don’t patronise and tell them what they should want: inspire them to want and achieve the best and right things themselves. And so it must be with schools. Governments of all parties infantilise schools and teachers by instructing them what to do, treating them like delinquents. The old adage about giving someone a fishing rod and they will be able to feed themselves for life as opposed to giving them food is apposite.
Schools and teachers need to be at the forefront of this campaign to encourage literacy, devising their own ways of making this very attainable dream a reality. A whole Kitchener army is waiting to be mobilised to help, including parents, volunteers from the community, and above all, the best teachers of all to the young, older students.
How ironic that we have this problem in Britain when our language is revered across the world, and when our artists have created the most sublime novels, plays and poetries. Making poverty history will be a century-long challenge: making ignorance history must be accomplished within the decade.
Anthony Seldon is Master of Wellington CollegeReuse content