Leading article: How to improve literacy in a time of austerity

Our national problem with reading goes beyond schools and runs deep in our society

Share
Related Topics

The good news is that Ofsted's new chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has turned the spotlight on literacy standards in schools. The bad news is that they have remained stagnant for the past seven years, with one in five children, nearly 100,000, still leaving primary school in England with a reading ability insufficient to access the secondary school curriculum. In Wales, the situation appears to be worse, with Estyn, their national school inspectorate, estimating that 40 per cent of pupils could not read as well as they should when they arrived at secondary school.

This stalling of reading standards since 2005 has been responsible for the UK slipping from 17th to 25th place in the latest international literacy league table published by PISA. That is a record we should be ashamed of, because it is undoubtedly true that if a child is unable to read properly, he or she has little chance of coping with other areas of the National Curriculum.

The question now is how to improve the situation. Sir Michael's suggestion is to raise the reading target for 11-year-olds. At present, the 200 or so schools that have consistently failed to get 60 per cent of their 11-year-olds achieving acceptable literacy and numeracy standards in national curriculum tests are being coerced into becoming academies by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. By itself, though, this is unlikely to have the desired effect, as our reading problems go beyond schools and run deep in our society.

First, recent research has shown that fewer parents are systematically reading to their children in the evening – and thus failing to give them the grounding they need in English before they start school. Second, there is the question of whether the current curriculum is sufficiently inspiring to encourage children to read. The emphasis is very much on testing, and teachers, fearful of a poor showing for their school in the league tables, coach their pupils incessantly in the final year of primary school.

Third, it has to be acknowledged that the Coalition's record in this area – for all its efforts to blame the previous government for the current situation – is not whiter than white. Head teachers' leaders have reported that since ministers scrapped the ring-fenced funding for one-to-one reading projects in schools, a number have had to be axed in an attempt to make ends meet. While the PISA figures do reflect developments under Labour, the same cannot be said for the results of National Curriculum tests over the past two years.

There could be the bones of a rescue plan in all this, though. What is obvious is that volunteer reading schemes in primary schools throughout the UK need to be encouraged – along the lines of the campaign our sister paper, the Evening Standard, has been conducting in London. These get around the issue of public-spending cuts, and many firms in the capital have encouraged their employees to become readers in nearby schools. There is no reason to believe the number of volunteers across the country could not be increased.

Then it is back to Sir Michael. He has already done the easy part in drawing attention to the problem, but there is no reason to suspect he will not do the hard graft, too. After all, his record in raising standards while headmaster of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney was impressive. He is like a dog with a bone when it comes to improving standards among disadvantaged pupils. We shall be closely monitoring and supporting his efforts. The outlook for the nation and its economy would be bleak indeed if, 10 years from now, one in five children is still leaving primary school unable to read to an acceptable standard.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower