Sir Mike Rake · Sunday Times · The Telegraph

Illiteracy – the blight on the UK economy.

After spending a huge amount of time training teachers and teaching on a children’s literature course for the OU, I’m back.
The Sunday Times (27 06 10) and the Telegraph yesterday reported the chairman of BT Sir Mike Rake as saying that around a quarter of applicants (six out of twenty-six thousand applicants) for places on BT’s apprenticeship scheme ‘were unable to complete the form because they could not spell, put it together or read properly – completely illiterate’.
He is merely the latest in a long line of chief executives (Sir Terry Leahy, the outgoing boss of Tesco, and Sir Stuart Rose, the honcho-in-chief at Marks and Spencer) who contend that people applying for work in their companies simply don’t have the literacy and numeracy skills required in the business world today.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about freeing up the education system and about a serious attempt to improve standards. Much of this has once again focused on the role of secondary schools. Yet, unless radical improvements are made in the teaching of reading and spelling and basic mathematics at primary level, pupils will not have the knowledge or skills to participate properly in the secondary curriculum, much less be able to engage with the demands of the world of work. How can children cope with J.K. Rowling, or Philip Pullman, not to mention Shakespeare, if they can’t read? How can they hope to embark on a physics course or manage ‘standard form’ in mathematics if they can’t add, subtract, multiply and divide fluently and accurately?
The answer lies in training all trainee and practising teachers to be taught how to teach phonics and basic maths properly. This requires commitment and resources but it will be an effort well spent.