“It is a tragedy that too many adults in our country do not have proper literacy and reading skills, because of not being taught properly at school,” said PM David Cameron
. But is he correct in saying that poor teaching is the only cause?
The National Literacy Trust’s manifesto
for literacy stressed teachers’ central role in promoting literacy. However, it recognised they couldn’t work alone – they needed to be part of a nationwide literacy programme. The manifesto recommended that the Government:
1 Implement the recommendations of the Bercow Review of speech, language and communication. These include monitoring young children’s communication skills during progress checks.
2 Recognise that parents are children’s first teachers. The Government should provide advice about the importance of communication skills and provide grants for parent groups to buy books.
3 Supplement phonic-based teaching of reading with strategies designed to promote reading enjoyment.
4 Incorporate new media to develop children’s literacy in the primary curriculum.
5 Ensure that school reports include evidence of reading skills and enjoyment.
6 Repeat the Skills for Life survey to discover which groups need literacy support.
7 Launch a national campaign to highlight the importance of literacy.
The Government is right to stress the negative consequences of illiteracy. However, it has ignored the improvement in literacy levels during the last nine years. The 2011 Skills for Life
survey showed a 13% rise in the number of 16-65 year olds achieving Level 2 or above in literacy (57%). Mr Cameron did not praise teachers for their part in increasing the proportion of 16-18 years olds reaching Level 2 by 13% since 2003.
Mr Cameron didn’t say that parental involvement was crucial. Instead, he solely blamed teachers before praising Secretary of State, Michael Gove, for pushing phonics. The Government’s fixation on phonics alone doesn’t recognise that most teachers teach them already – what’s needed is more work on comprehension. The Department for Education (DfE) does recognise the importance of parents but the advice
on its website is aimed at teachers and librarians. And Michael Gove, remember, was responsible for cutting the funding for Bookstart
in 2010. Partial funding was restored only after a national outcry.
The manifesto recommended that school reports show how much their children enjoy books. From 2012 Parents will be given the results of their child’s Year 1 phonics test
– it’s unclear whether this includes information on reading enjoyment.
What steps are being taken to promote a national campaign stressing the importance of literacy? There is the “Just Read”
campaign but this is geared to schools. The Welsh Government has launched a nationwide reading campaign
to start immediately while the English Government has announced a reading competition
to start in the autumn. It’s a step in the right direction but, again, it targets only schools.
The Government has a crucial role to play in promoting a nationwide literacy strategy which covers all ages starting at birth. Instead, it squanders opportunities to do so because it can’t resist the temptation to criticise teaching.