THE ENDURING IMPORTANCE OF LITERACY
What will the end of the Strategies mean for Literacy?
The Government has announced that the (National) Strategies including the Literacy strategy will be ending next year and the Tories have no plans to continue them, though still stressing the importance of a grounding in sound literacy and numeracy skills.
They believe that the Strategies have had their day and are no longer delivering the results they should, given the resources deployed. However, Nick Gibb, the shadow schools spokesman, is an eloquent supporter of synthetic phonic teaching in our schools ,which rather suggests a continuing focus on literacy in schools, should the Tories win office .
Sound Literacy skills are, of course, vital for individuals’ life opportunities and our economy. But every year in England, 7% of children leaving primary school at age 11 (around 35,000) do so with reading skills at or below those of the average seven year old. For boys it is 9.2%– nearly one in ten.
The majority of these children are poor. Every Child a Chance pointed out that these numbers have remained pretty static since the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy.
That doesn’t mean that the Strategy has failed, indeed it has significantly raised standards for the majority of children. But it does imply that its impact has not been sufficient to narrow the gap for the most disadvantaged. ,(Machin, S. and S. McNally (2008) The Three Rs: The Scope for Literacy and Numeracy Policies to Raise Achievement’, Centre for the Economics of Education mimeo )
Significantly, adults most likely to live in poverty, are those who failed to learn to read at school. Parson and Bynner’s follow-up study of boys who were poor readers at the age of ten showed that at the age of thirty they were two to two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than good readers with similar levels of early social disadvantage.
For women, early poor reading, rather than early social exclusion risk factors, was the main barrier to being in full-time employment at 30. (Parsons,S and Bynner, J (2002) Basic Skills and social exclusion: findings from a study of adults born in 1970, London Basic Skills Agency) The National Literacy Trust is among those who argue convincingly that literacy is a fundamental life skill, without which participation in society becomes increasingly difficult.
Research shows, unsurprisingly, that literacy levels and attainment are generally much higher among children from more affluent social backgrounds than those from lower social class groups. Whilst both skills-based literacy and reading for pleasure are vital, the NLT believes that the relationship between the two makes the most compelling case for the importance of literacy as a life skill. They cite a 2002, OECD research finding that reading for pleasure was a more important indicator of future success than any socio-economic factor. The National Literacy Trust has proposed four recommendations to improve literacy: First, prioritize approaches that promote family literacy and parental support for literacy . Secondly, give priority to early years language support. The importance of speech and language needs to be fully recognized as the foundation of all reading. Third, develop and apply a consistent holistic approach to literacy. This needs to be in place throughout a child’s education .Indeed, to create a reading culture, for instance it is important that literacy is visible throughout the entire school and curriculum. Finally, the NLT says we must create a culture where reading and literacy are associated and linked with success. The Leitch review of skills, released in 2006, highlighted that many adults in Britain who would benefit the most from education and higher literacy skills do not consider them important. Creating a literacy culture, the NLT believes, is reliant on a multi agency approach, including government, local authorities, employers, education providers and last, but by no means least, parents. But it is crucial too to register that early interventions have the best chance of success.
The Reading Recovery scheme is one such scheme that focuses on early interventions and aims at children who, after one year of schooling, have shown they are having difficulty with reading . Children taking part in Reading Recovery receive daily 30-minute individual lessons for up to 20 weeks from a specially trained teacher, alongside work to engage the children’s parents or carers in supporting their children’s learning. It is expensive though working out at apprthe decision to introduce Reading Recovery nationally is not evidence basedoximately £2,500 per child. And although the scheme has many supporters a Parliamentary Select Committee has just concluded that the decision to introduce Reading Recovery nationally was not evidence based.
Evidence suggests though that for best effect this is the optimum period for intervention: any later, and the effect of not being able to read on the child’s self – confidence and attitudes to learning make remediation increasingly difficult as the Literacy Strategy has found out. Indeed, once children fall behind in cognitive development, they are likely to fall further behind at subsequent educational stages .Poor cognitive development also increases the risk of future offending. Literacy rates among prisoners are very poor.
What is clear is that the demise of the Strategies, which have played their part in raising standards, must not mean that we take our eye off the need to give children a sound grounding in literacy (and numeracy) early in their schooling, so that they enjoy an easy transition to secondary education.