If you happened to have bought the Sun newspaper last Sunday, you will doubtless have read Nick Gibb’s piece (pp14 – 15) ‘The teachers aren’t letting down kids… it’s [the] methods of teachers’.
In the article, Gibb claims that one in ten boys leave ‘primary school with the reading age of a seven-year-old or worse’. The same is true, he says, for one in twenty girls.
I think he’s way too low on his figures. He’s probably going on SATs scores but, as everyone knows, SATs are notoriously misleading. As I have repeatedly argued, SENCos and other secondary staff responsible for screening their incoming Year 7s at the start of the school year report to us far larger numbers than the ones Nick Gibb has given.
Nonetheless, what he goes on to say is absolutely right: the international competition is hotting up and standards in many countries are rising rapidly. Gibb mentions the usual suspects, Hong Kong, Singapore and China but only a few weeks ago, I read a very interesting report in the Spanish daily El País. The piece, by Juan Arias in Rio de Janeiro, reported on a decision made by the Brazilian government to allocate all the money obtained in fees from oil concessions in the country to the cause of education. According to the article, in 2011, the fee amounted to a massive 4,600 million Euros. This is the equivalent of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund and a measure of how serious Brazil views the development of its own knowledge economy.
As the prime minister of Brazil Dilma Rousseff says, ‘education is the basis of all future economic development’. And, it will mean that something like 10% of the country’s GDP will be devoted to improving Brazil’s knowledge economy.
This is the shape of things to come and bears out the former leader of the CBI Digby Jones’s prediction, which I reported in postings in 2009 and 2010, that if we don’t watch out India will have our lunch and China will have our dinner.
Despite the fact that Gibb’s warning should be heeded, I still have a big beef with him. Although he is a tireless campaigner on behalf of ‘synthetic phonics’, he made a very big error in allowing the government’s match-funding initiative to include books and resources as well as training. The first priority, as indicated in the title of the article in the Sun, is the methodology. Teachers need proper training. They need to know how to go about teaching reading and spelling. They need to understand how the English alphabet code works – how the writing system relates to the sounds of the language – and they need to know what skills are needed to use this knowledge. What has happened, and I fully expect the government’s own figures to bear me out when they are published, is that heads and literacy co-ordinators have spent the match-funding money on replenishing their bookshelves and not on training their staff.
I hope that the government will announce in the new year their decision to continue match-funding and I hope that the money is allocated for training only.