Literacy Crisis

An article in the Times (Griffiths 2022) suggests that reading is fast becoming a lost art. Apparently, a small number of children are arriving in our secondary schools with reading ages as low as six or seven. Education experts warn of a reading crisis caused partly by children’s growing obsession with screens on tablets, made considerably worse by Covid. At least one fifth of children are expected to be delayed with reading – leading to below average learning across the curriculum.

This situation is expected to be a focus of the forthcoming government white paper. Michael Wilshaw, former Chief Inspector of Education has been helping pupils whose reading age has dipped by about two years. 

A number of issues urgently need to be addressed. Firstly, the need for intensive reading catch-up. Secondary teachers are being trained to teach reading and comprehension. A bigger problem is how to get children back into the reading habit when screens have virtually taken over. 

A third issue relates to children with SEND and children who are disadvantaged or have English as their second language (EAL). In one secondary school I visit, a third of the pupils receive FSM, and the proportion of pupils with EAL is high, making spoken language a huge barrier to any reading catch-up. 

Fourthly, the achievement gap between pupils with SEND and their peers is still not closing significantly in spite of schools’ valiant efforts. 

So, in the light of all this, is it now time for something a bit more radical? Such as reducing the teacher/pupil ratio? Ouch! Yes, it would be expensive, and hurt budgets. Yet, if this resulted in fewer parents chasing EHCPs for their child because SEN Support has not worked effectively, might there be less wastage in the system? 

It’s worth a thought, isn’t it? Our education system is a mess. It needs radical overhaul. The current pupil ratio does not allow inclusion to work for every child with SEND, EAL, or vulnerability caused by disadvantage. 

Meanwhile we also await the SEND review. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait.

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