Today, yet again we see a London newspaper highlighting yet another attempt to put a tiny piece of sticking plaster on what seems to be the ever festering sore of illiteracy in schools.
The London Evening Standard reports that university students are being sent in to five London secondary schools to provide ‘urgent’ help for secondary pupils who can’t read and write to a level that will enable them to cope with the secondary curriculum.
Five London secondary schools are taking part in a £458,000 ‘pilot programme’ to help catch up the estimated three hundred pupils needing this kind of support. This, of course, could be only the tip of the iceberg because it is reckoned that between ‘70 and 100 per cent’ of pupils entering these secondaries have reading ages below ten years.
Of course, this is nothing new. We’ve known about it for years and I’ve been writing about it ever since I began this blog. Why? Because it is a common occurrence for secondary teachers and teaching assistants arriving on our courses to tell that this is exactly the kind of thing they are faced with every year. We know this because, as soon as pupils arrive at secondary school, a screening process takes place in which decisions are made about which pupils will need specialised help in reading. The truth is that only the most needy, in other words, those with such low reading abilities that they can barely function at all can be given help. This is because there are so many pupils with reading ages below their chronological ages. Sixty and seventy per cent are the kinds of figures regularly quoted.
For me, the first question that springs to mind is: what the hell is not going on in the feeder primary schools that is causing so many pupils to leave without the ability to read or write properly?
As Katie Ivens, leader of the charity Real Action, which is running the project, makes clear in the article, illiteracy blights opportunities for these young people. It also creates huge problems for secondary teachers who have to cope with pupils in their classes who can’t read from fairly simple textbooks, never mind make notes or write down their thoughts on paper.
The second question is: why is nearly half a million pounds being spent on trying to rectify a problem by the time it reaches secondary school level instead of going to the root cause: the primary schools that are failing to teach these pupils to read and write.
For the kind of money being spent, Sounds-Write could easily train well over a thousand primary teachers on our four-day intensive and highly specialised courses and in so doing easily prevent this kind of thing happening in the first place.
Time to get out those grapes again, though this time I’m thinking that instead of Cato’s warning we should instead be thinking about Steinbeck and getting good and mad!