“Primary and secondary schools failing to raise the literacy rate of a child to an age appropriate minimum standard should receive a financial penalty to cover the cost of raising their attainment as they move on to a new provider”, so says the Riots Panel Final Report
This headline-grabbing recommendation drew attention from the many worthwhile comments in the report including the importance of youth work, the value of good quality careers guidance and identifying school leavers likely to become neither in education or employment (NEETs). However, the suggestion that schools are fined if children don’t reach an “age appropriate minimum standard” is problematic.
First, the report doesn’t define what “age appropriate standard” is. Is it National Curriculum Level 4? Is it the expected level of progress as laid down by the Department for Education? Is it functional literacy? If so, what is the agreed definition of functional literacy?
Secondly, if secondary schools receive money from the budget of primary schools in order to raise attainment to the age appropriate standard, what would happen if the secondary school failed to raise the child’s achievement sufficiently? What organisation would receive fines from secondary schools? And what would happen to the money attached to a NEET – the very people likely to need help with literacy?
The report said that a Sheffield University 2011 study had found “a fifth of school leavers have the literacy levels at or below that expected of an 11 year old.” But the 2010* (not 2011) report actually said this:
“The reading, writing and numeracy attainments of this age group [13-19] at the top end are among the best in the world… Overall, the data suggest that average attainments in all three areas have improved over roughly the last decade. Most young people do have functional to good literacy and numeracy, but more needs to be done. In particular, about 17% of young people age 16-19 have poorer literacy…than is needed for full participation in today’s society.”
So, 17% not the quoted 20%. The Leitch Report
put the number of functionally illiterate adults (16-65) even lower at 15%. And “Skills for Life”
found that 6% of pupils left school in 2006/7 without achieving the threshold level for literacy.
And yet the figure for functional illiteracy is still misrepresented as being between 20%
found that the 20% figure appeared in headlines as recently as three days ago.
If schools are to be fined for every school leaver who doesn’t achieve a particular standard then a definition is urgently needed. The Sheffield report ends with a warning that literacy had been defined by “experts” based on what they think other people should be able to do rather than on surveys about what people actually need to be able to do for their own purposes. The report ends:
“Meanwhile, all ascriptions of poor literacy and numeracy, whether to 13- to 19-year-olds or to adults, should be made with due humility – those who have the power to decide what other people should be able to do have imposed their views on those who do not.”
*Sheffield University 2010 report,” THE LEVELS OF ATTAINMENT IN LITERACY AND NUMERACY OF 13- TO 19-YEAR OLD IN ENGLAND, 1948–2009” downloadable here