The importance of basic literacy

As unemployment figures show that 1.15 million young people are out of work, Hannah Smithson asks if children are gaining the basic skills to read and write from an early age?

Image courtesy of Cafemama Flickr


The new Chief Inspector of Schools has announced that literacy rates in England have stalled.

The importance of literacy at primary school level is fundamental to the progress of learning to secondary school level and beyond. Many failing schools are now being converted to academies to try and help those schools with special measures.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said that too many primary school students are leaving school without being able to read properly. He called for targets aimed at 11-year olds to be raised, and said that reading standards have not improved since 2005 and should be higher.

The last Programme for International Student Assessment survey, in 2009, showed the UK had slipped eight places from 17th to 25th place in a global assessment of reading standards.

Sir Michael told BBC Two’s Newsnight that one in five children were not reaching the standard expected at the end of primary school.

Failing schools

This comes on the heels of news that a secondary school in Poole, St. Aldhelm’s Academy, was announced as the worst performing school in the country when GCSE league tables were revealed this year.

Only a shocking 3% of students who left last summer achieved the target five A*-C GCSE grades, which is a decrease of 11 places in 12 months.

The newly accredited academy school has only had its status for eight months after being taken over by sponsors, the Diocese of Salisbury and Bournemouth University in 2010.

Principal of St. Aldhelm’s, Cheryl Heron said: ‘What people have to understand is we only opened in September 2010 so our first year 11 results were with a group of year 11s we only had for eight months and although we did everything within our power we only achieved 3% five A to Cs in English and maths.’

‘We have pressure on us to do better which we will do – that’s why we’ve become a sponsored academy but everything takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.’

What is an academy?

Michael Gove, Education Secretary, introduced academy schools as independent state-funded schools last year.

Academies are funded by central government, however they are not controlled by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) but instead by staff, governors and parents. This means they do not have to follow a strict curriculum and are in charge of their own budget.

There are more than 370 academies in England, all secondary school level.

Academies were established under the Labour government, in the hope of improving standards in the worst performing schools.

In contrast, the coalition wants to enable schools considered ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted to convert to academies and for successful schools to mentor those in more disadvantaged areas. The coalition wants all schools to have the chance to become academies, including primary and special schools, as part of an ‘education revolution’, after passing the Academies Bill in parliament.

Why do schools become academies?

Standards of behaviour and attendance have improved remarkably since St. Aldhelm’s became an academy and the recent Ofsted report recognises these achievements.

David Ball, is the Vice Chair of Governors of St. Aldhelm’s School and the head of Academic Development services at Bournemouth University. He said, ‘The Principal and staff of St Aldhelm’s are dedicated and fully committed to improving the educational attainment, at all levels, of the young people (and others) of the community.’

Council view

Councillor Barry Goldbart, Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services for Bournemouth, said, ‘I am ashamed of the situation both nationally and locally. That so many of our primary schools are failing our children is just not acceptable to me.’

He said that the lack of literacy rates in primary schools clearly affects our secondary schools and the GCSE results that we see at places such as St. Aldhelm’s.

Cllr Goldbart said Bournemouth was in the bottom 12% in the whole of the country for primary school literacy rates, remarking that, ‘I think it is dreadful and a lot more needs to be done. It comes down to the teaching at the end of the day.’

‘Academies are a good thing and a trend that I think will continue’, he claims. ‘The only loss is of the high quality officers within the council who deal with education and with losing them we lose the experience to make those tough decisions.’

He points out that it is only some of the schools and as governor for Bournemouth School for Girls and Oakmead School of Technology, he has seen some of the best results in turning failing students into very skilled pupils.

He said the challenge was making sure children enter secondary education with a good level of literacy, something he believes isn’t happening at the moment.


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About hannahsmithson

Hi I'm Hannah. I've just graduated from Bournemouth University with a first class honors in Multimedia Journalism and am about to adventure off to the other side of the world to work in the Falkland Islands for FITV. I am excited about my future prospects in Journalism and here is my blog where I document most of my experiences. Please get in touch if you want to chat...

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