Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Illiteracy betrays a generation

I welcome the launch of the London Evening Standard’s Illiteracy In London campaign in today’s edition. The capital’s shocking literacy levels need regular exposure.
The inadequacies of both parents and schools mean every year we’re turning out illiterate and innumerate kids on to a hostile labour market. Jobless and with state benefits squeezed, society condemns them to a bleak future in which only crime and drug dependency can flourish.
Nearly half of all prisoners have a reading age of seven but there are worse statistics in the Evening Standard’s first report.
One in three children in London don’t own a book; one in four joins secondary school unable to read or write adequately; while one in five leave education without basic skills.
As a consequence increasing numbers of employers including the armed forces are offering literacy support to new entrants.
It is nothing less than a betrayal of the young; a nationwide problem that successive governments have recognised – and failed to begin to solve.
London‘s problem is acute because of its transient population. Children can’t settle in schools if their families are always on the move. Kids from immigrant families where English isn’t spoken at home have a particular difficulty.
Poverty is a factor that can’t be ignored. But as the Evening Standard points out when pupils at schools experience similar social deprivation but turn out widely different results, there are lessons to be learnt in classroom practise.
I hope newspaper looks at the explosive issue of incompetent teachers. Teaching is one profession where it is almost impossible to sack failing practitioners.
It promises future articles will examine “why years of government initiatives and investment have failed to solve the problem."
Education secretary Michael Gove told the Commons on May 23rd: “We absolutely need a zero-tolerance policy on illiteracy and innumeracy.”
He talks a good fight but can he deliver? The Coalition’s drive to re-shape our education system will be one of the battle grounds – along with the NHS – of the next General Election. Gove needs to show progress in alleviating what threatens to become a national disaster when you consider how Britain’s economic power is being challenged by emerging nations.


  1. So it wasn't all 'Education, Education, Education'. More like consumerism, consumerism, consumerism. You touch on the challenge to Britain's economic power, GC, but were we not constantly being told during those golden years that we were the world's 4th largest economy?
    This problem is not just confined to the early years. Even in 2001, one Professor in a top London Univerities, Humanities school, I heard remark on New Labour's proposed increase to 50% for Univerity attendance, '50%!, we are scraping the barrel now. Nobody is doing any reading!' As somebody said, about the influence of the Internet, 'there is a lot of information out there, but not much knowledge'----part of the price we pay, I suspect, for living in the Post Modern Age.

  2. In the Information Age, Education Minister Gove's [over simple?] 'return to basics' to the classical 3 R s--- 'reading, writing and 'rithmetic', may not to be sufficient to stem the tide, because this time round the impact of a child's formative years on his/her future potential will really need to be the top priority of the government. Cerebral rather than material goals and values would need to be incalcated in the young.


What do you think? GC