Yesterday (24/02/10) BBC news and The Scotsman reported the appalling statistics from a Scottish government report on the number of children failing to achieve ‘expected standards’ in writing. The figure is a stunning 66%. The figure for reading – 60% failing to reach ‘expected standards’ – is nearly as bad.
Meanwhile, the Scottish education secretary, Michael Russell, offered the usual platitudes that people are simply sick of hearing from politicians. In the Scotsman he is reported as saying that ‘while there is much that is really good and much that maintains a high standard there are also some things that are average and – unfortunately – some things that are below average’.
Well, isn’t it about time he got off his backside and did something about it? Every single one of the children who are failing to learn to read and write will struggle with the secondary curriculum. And after that, they will struggle in their jobs, if they manage to find anyone willing to employ them. Every one of the children represented by these egregious figures could end up blighted for the rest of their lives by the failure of the education system to deal with this problem.
Fiona Macleod tells us that the Scottish Survey of Achievement (the SSA), on which the report is based,
“is a measure of the levels attained by more than 13,000 pupils, aged seven to 14, at almost 400 schools. It is designed to produce a picture of education achievement across the country.
It used written tests sat by children and questionnaires given to a random sample of pupils and teachers.
Children who answered 65 per cent of questions correctly at the level for their age were regarded as having well-established skills.
The report also found teachers often vastly overestimated the actual skill levels of pupils.”
My bet is that, if the children were given straightforward single word reading and spelling tests, the results would be even worse.
The situation is absolutely scandalous and yet it doesn’t have to be like this. What can be done about it? As this blog has consistently argued, we need to start by training teachers to teach phonics properly. This means teaching them how the English alphabet code works and the skills children need to be taught in order to use this knowledge. Neither Scottish nor English governments are prepared to take on this vital task and, for as long as they ignore the problem, we are going to continue to read reports like this one and have to listen to the laments of business leaders who have to deal with the consequences of such neglect.
For a phonics programme that is proven to work, look at Sounds-Write’s Longitudinal study of literacy development from 2003-2009, following 1607 pupils through Key Stage 1.