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Last Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005, 19:24 GMT 20:24 UK
What can be done to improve literacy?
How can primary schools improve teaching basic literary skills?

An Ofsted report revealed that despite a 'marked improvement' in English standards, many pupils are leaving primary school without basic skills in reading and writing.

A fifth of 11 -year -old pupils, particularly boys still fail to reach to expected level for English and very few pupils were reading for pleasure.

Schools Minister Jacqui Smith said the government will be ensuring that extra support and catch up programmes are there for pupils that need them.

What do you think can be done about poor literacy standards at schools? How can young children be encouraged to read more?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion received so far:

Parents need to recognise the vital importance of spending quality time with their kids
Valerie, Ilford, Essex
A busy shift worker, my Dad always made a point of spending 10 minutes reading a book with me every evening as a child. In his words, I "soaked things up like a sponge" and could read and spell by the time of starting infant class. This gave me a massive head start throughout the whole school system, and kept me reading for pleasure despite some painfully dull English lesson experiences which bored and put off a lot of classmates. Our stressful overwork culture needs to be rebalanced, and parents need to recognise the vital importance of spending quality time with their kids.
Valerie, Ilford, Essex

Traditionally boys outperformed girls at school but for the past 20 years I have witnessed education and training particularly for children geared towards helping girls at the expense of boys such as female friendly books and special courses devoted to female interests. Therefore it's hardly a surprise why boys lag behind.
Simon, Liverpool, UK

People forget that it is not just teaching styles that have changed in the last 20-30 years. Did you sit at a PC and watch DVDs in your childhood? The problem is not solely in the schools.
Andy H, Grimsby, N.E. Lincs

As a secondary school teacher, I encounter many children on a daily basis with literacy problems. A teacher can only do so much. Responsibility also lies with the parents. Parents need to support their own children by encouraging them to read at home instead of watching TV, playing Ps2, etc. I am amazed at times on receipt of letters from some parents who themselves have no grasp of basic literacy skills. What hope have their children?
Rubina, London

Expectation levels are so low that kids have nothing to aim for
Jan, UK
Children are no longer taught how to sit properly (Health and Safety), how to present their work (spelling? - who cares!), how to pronounce their words (missing 't' etc) so no wonder everything is deteriorating. Expectation levels are so low that kids have nothing to aim for. We need to get back to basics and parents have to take responsibility. Bring back conversation - ban the grunt!
Jan, UK

Continuously teach grammar and spelling throughout high school, and demand higher standards of English in school assessment. If teachers allow students to get away with bad spelling and grammar in assignments and exams, then students will never improve.
Mark, Brisbane, Australia

I agree with others that encouraging a love of reading is a job for parents. I still read to my children every night, even though my 10-year-old could very well read by herself. But reading together is a great springboard for conversation which is a really important part of literacy. Helping your child develop good listening and expressive language is one of the best skills a parent can teach a child. And in return you get conversations with amazing people - your children! Too many parents are missing out on this opportunity because of the way we prioritise (or rather don't) time with our families.
Anne B, Cambridge

Just let the teachers teach. Scrap all the targets, assessments, tests and take as much of the administration as possible out of schools and let them get on with what they are supposed to do.
Edwood Walker, Malvern, UK

I found English the most boring subject in school and because of that I didn't bother. I was told to retake English so I could do my collage course. Kids will only learn if they find it interesting, maybe we need to make the subject more fun then kids might want to learn.
Phil, Bristol, UK

I am absolutely swamped with tutoring work because families are so desperate for their kids to learn. Children learn best at their own speed in small groups of 15 maximum. Given 15 pupils teachers can actually teach. Until 7 forget tests and targets, just play and let natural learning happen, it does, just look at the success of home educated kids. After 7, have a really core curriculum in the mornings at primary school from 7-10: the four Rs reading, writing, 'rithmetic and research, keeping afternoons for other subjects of interest. But why say all this when it's common sense? It won't happen because schools are about creating a lot of failures to do rubbish jobs. They are not about learning, what a fantasy idea!
Shan, Lydney

The true sole purpose of education should be to teach children to learn for themselves and any instruction that does not achieve this would have been effort spent in vain.
Kamran, London

We need a national push on literacy at all levels of society
Sheila, Somerset
All teachers should have to pass (with a very high mark) a literacy test which proves they can spell, punctuate and use grammar correctly. All public bodies should scrutinise the paperwork they send out to ensure it is grammatically perfect. Publishers should employ editors again - the standard of punctuation is sometimes shocking, never mind the ill-used spell-checker which appears even in printed books. We need a national push on literacy at all levels of society. No point in thinking that reading a book will improve a child's English if the book itself has typos, mis-spellings and, in the case of JK Rowling, for example, appalling punctuation. And if you want children to read more, turn off the TV.
Sheila, Somerset

To improve literacy why not try actually teaching the kids instead of running schools like some extended feel-good nursery. Concepts of success and failure do not harm children. Children improve by experiencing both.
Derek S, UK

It's simple really. Both my father and mother read to me from a very young age and I've had my head in a book ever since. This really is a case of the parents not doing anywhere near enough to help their children - what hope do teachers have when parents use DVDs and videos to "babysit" their pre-school children and 3 year olds have TVs in their bedrooms!
Tracey, Bristol, UK

You could start by turning the predictive texting on all mobile phones. Then the kids wouldn't be able to text each other unless they could spell the words correctly!
Marc Whiteley, London, England

Having brought up a child singly (and that child attending state schools) I feel qualified to comment on the poor education children receive in these schools. It was only because I taught her that she learned to read and write, the school either did not have the time or facilities. There were many children who left school at 15-16 unable to read or write. What happens to these kids? What future is there for them? Is it any wonder some turn to crime? We need to start treating out young and old with more attention and respect.
L Gee, London

The issue resides clearly with the parents. If reading is not encouraged or part of the culture at home then the young children are already going to struggle with literacy. Worse still, if parents are not accustomed to speaking intelligently to their children then their verbal skills are likely to be disadvantaged as well as their general literacy.
Mark, Bristol

I welcome a return to the more formal teaching of grammar in schools. The "trendy" educational ideas that held sway in the 80's and 90's are responsible for a whole generation of people being unable to speak or write English correctly. I'm appalled at how many people I come across - even graduates with good degrees - who are ignorant of basic grammar (using "of" instead of "have", for instance).
Pete, Selby

As a former teacher I would say writing is an acquired skill developed with practice. At 56, I see myself using the wrong word as I type quickly such as through for threw. Often I am horrified at email mistakes I have made even though I proof read everything. I wonder if typing works differently from writing in the traditional sense.
John B, Windermere, Florida

My suggestion is for more schools to encourage enthusiastic people like me to become involved
Don Greenhouse, Emsworth, Hampshire
I am 69 and have a 6 year old granddaughter in year 2 at her school. Every Thursday I go to her school to help with individual reading assessment of her class. There are about 30 children and over the last few months all of them have read for me on a regular basis. After each individual read I make notes of their progress in their progress book. For six year olds they are awesome. I put it down to encouragement at home, high standard teaching and encouraging people like me to help in class. I love it and the children love it too. They are always asking with great enthusiasm to be next to read. My suggestion is for more schools to encourage enthusiastic people like me to become involved. It is magic! I love every moment I am with the children. At this school there are several parents who come in to read and encourage the children. Let other schools try this method.
Don Greenhouse, Emsworth, Hampshire

This is a very serious problem with many parents not being capable of helping, as of course they should. Schools spend too much time on subjects that are not their responsibility e.g. sex etc. Kids cannot even speak properly when leaving school. This is all down to lack of enforced discipline.
Michael, Plymouth, UK

While we allow our children to speak to badly we will continue to have problems with literacy. While I accept that different people have their own dialects and styles, there needs to be an understanding that there is a standard way of speaking which allows everyone to be clearly understood. I am shocked by the number of my daughter's friend who has incredibly poor spoken grammar yet are not corrected in the classroom. How can we expect them to write well if we don't offer a good example. Jenny D
Jenny Dempsey, Bedfordshire

We are all lazy and rely too much on computerised spelling and grammar checkers. How many adults could actually write a letter with pen and paper and not make mistakes these days?
Tom, Ipswich, UK

If the teachers have nothing to build on they are fighting a losing battle
Frances, Leicester, UK
I am horrified that parents who have commented think it's up to the teachers when their 6 year olds don't know the alphabet. What were they doing for the first 3 years of their child's life? My four year old has known the whole alphabet for more than 2 years. She is learning both at home and nursery letters and sounds using a phonetic system. She is already able to spell out and pronounce words and is starting to read words without spelling them out. We, as her parents, put effort into this. Not because we are pushy and want her to be advanced, but because she loves learning and the pride and joy on her face when she does some reading on her own beings tears to the eyes. Parents, you are missing out and your children are missing out. If the teachers have nothing to build on they are fighting a losing battle.
Frances, Leicester, UK

I teach 16-19 year olds in a college and remain appalled at the lack of basic English Language skills our students arrive with despite being qualified enough to do advanced courses. It doesn't help that our exam boards won't let us penalise for bad literacy. the worst are errors when a word may sound the same as another, such as using 'no' for 'know' and 'way' for 'weigh'. Don't get me started on apostrophise!
Andrew, Shropshire

Literacy means continuous practice with words, written and spoken. The aim should be to encourage kids to spend more time with paper and pencil and read more books, while spending less time in front of the PC and television. Pointing finger to the other is useless. We need a joint effort both from parents and from school.
Mary McCannon, Budapest, Hungary

I think that the Ofsted checks on primary schools should be carried out more frequently. Six years is too long to go between checks. Our local primary school has now on its third head teacher in the past 6 years. This is how the schools aren't keeping up to standard.
Donna, Cumbria

Parents should ensure that their children can at least recognise the alphabet by the age of 5. You have to make the effort to talk to your children at every opportunity. This should start from birth and they will amaze you with how quickly they can learn.
Griff, Cardiff, Wales

Schools should go back to teaching phonics and ditch the 60s inspired child centred learning nonsense
Tom, London
It's quite an achievement that a generation schooled entirely under the New Labour mantra of education, education, education have, in one fifth of cases, not been educated at all. Schools should go back to teaching phonics and ditch the 60s inspired child centred learning nonsense.
Tom, London

Just for once it isn't all Labour's fault. These kids are at home for 4-5 years before they go to school. If parents think they will get reading geniuses without any parental help or encouragement that's breathtakingly, naive at best. Joel Cassin is also right about kids who don't want to learn.
Ken, London, UK

Maybe instead of dumping your kids in front of the TV, get them reading. A bit of one to one attention from a parent surely will have more of an effect than a stressed teacher who is trying to keep the focus of 20 kids!
Stacey, Aberdeen, Scotland

Schools and teachers should only be partly responsible for the education of children in areas like literacy and numeracy. Parents play a big role too and are as much to blame as teachers for failing literacy levels. In the cases cited in the replies to the question where children aren't as literate as they should be, take a good look at the amount of time parents spend educating or reading with their children before even thinking of blaming teachers.
Andy, Epsom, UK

I have a 6-year-old that still cannot recognise the letter 'a'!
Jermaine, Milton Keynes
I think the results published today are disappointing to say the least. To be frank, this is nothing new, we've been hearing about this failure for about 5 years now and it's not surprising that the failings of our children is now in freefall. I have a 6- year- old that still cannot recognise the letter 'a'! How can you teach anything at school without the child been able to recognise the alphabets and numbers from 1-20. All other subjects revolve around this. I think the emphasis on the problem should stop and the focus placed on finding long-lasting solutions. I don't particularly think the kids learn anything in school nowadays. Children stay at school for the better part of 8-hours without learning anything significant! It's a disgrace to the British education system and we're failing these children. We'll eventually have to pay for their shortcomings in years to come i.e. by having to employ foreign nationals to work in majority of our establishments.
Jermaine, Milton Keynes

Teaching is about you only thing you can qualify in without taking any exams! Surely if our teachers aren't tested what chance have the kids got?
Ian, Warwick, UK

Again it has to come from the parents. If a child is getting little or no encouragement at home how can we expect someone else to give it? Some parents are bringing up their children with a very negative attitude to education, so it's no surprise to find that many don't achieve.
Mags, Oxfordshire, UK

Stop complaining about the teaching. Until the Government realise that targets and league tables create a system that concentrates solely on results the schools are fairly powerless to do much about this. Parents should read to their children from a young age to help them understand sounds and word meanings. From there the children will be more effective in language use. Children are not born with the need for instant gratification; they learn it from their parents who claim to be too busy to help their children with their development.
Nick, Driffield, East Yorkshire

Is it not time that we got off the backs of teachers over reading ability? How about we parents take some of the load. We should read to our children every day. My parents always read to me, the teachers were then able to build on at least some measure of understanding of reading. Too many 'blame' points go to teachers, government etc. Parents ought to get a grip and be parents!
Alex Davidson, Blackrod, Lancs

Parents must introduce their children to libraries and promote good reading habits
Farrah Akhtar, Manchester
Sadly children these days are dumped in front of computers, Sony Play Stations and televisions by parents who have little time to give their children. Reading must be encouraged from an early start not just in our schools but in the home as well. We have excellent public libraries which offer story time for toddlers and young children. Parents must introduce their children to libraries and promote good reading habits. It's far too easy to blame schools and teachers for everything!
Farrah Akhtar, Manchester

Are the 'expected levels' more concerned with spelling and handwriting? (small-muscle motor skills) Or with comprehension? (verbal reasoning, memory and logic) Are the black children who 'make limited progress' living with educated parents who take an interest in their school lives? Or are they, like many white and Asian children who make limited progress, living with poorly educated or disinterested parents who either can't or won't helpfully discuss school work and the school day with their families? I still believe a child's home environment has a great deal more impact on their ability to concentrate and progress in school than either their sex or the colour of their skin.
Emily, London

The answer must lie with parents
Tod, Barnstaple
Do the maths! If a class of 30 spends an hour a day on literacy, the class teacher will only have 2 minutes each day to hear each pupil read; with the help of an assistant, the time spent with a child will still only double. The answer must lie with parents: if a parent spends just a quarter of an hour each day listening to his/her child read, this increases reading time by 400%! Parents can't simply blame the school: they must take responsibility for their child's education. (They might even enjoy it!).
Tod, Barnstaple

It's hardly surprising that pupils don't read for pleasure as the literacy hour kills all interest in reading with its emphasis on continually analysing text instead of enjoying it. And whatever happened to the natural curve of distribution - are there no longer any less able or late developing pupils out there? Or are we now trying to hide the fact that some are inherently less able than others whatever the teaching methods are!
CC, London. UK

I think it is equally urgent to improve the standard of the writing and spelling and the use of English on this website. You should lead by example and define a new standard of BBC English. Currently, your performance is poor, heading towards shameful!
Nicholas Cullum, UK

I went to primary school in the 1960s. We were taught to read using a methodology which I believe was called ITA - a phonetics based system. We also had specific lessons to improve handwriting and regular spelling tests. Trendy teaching ideas since then, such as "correcting a child's spelling inhibits their self-expression" have caused untold damage to child literacy over the years. Perhaps "older" teaching techniques could be reviewed with a view to reinstating some, if not all of them?
Robin , Wrexham, UK

A school of a dyslexic boy is told that there is no money to help him and other class mates as they are 'bottom of the pile'. This boy can barely spell. His mother has to pay for a tutor privately even though her income doesn't really allow it and cannot get help to meet the costs. This boy would love to read for pleasure, but lacks the skills. In just under a years time he becomes another statistic of high school failures. What can be done you as. Start supporting children who need literacy help! The boy is my son and this is happening now.
Anon, England

Why not institute a set of tests designed to measure the degree of enjoyment children get from reading? Or to measure the degree to which it stimulates the child's imagination. This data could then be analysed scientifically, to assess the artistic merit of the books concerned. Children could also be tested on other leisure activities such as playing games and, indeed, making conversation with their friends.
Rupert Kingfisher, London

It is hardly surprising that literacy levels are still low in our primary schools. We have had that much change in what we are expected to teach that it is difficult to keep up. Although the push for 'new phonics teaching' is a joke considering that most primary schools have been doing this for years. Let the teachers get on with their job. They know how to teach their pupils best without having it changed every year.
Abigail Harvey, Staffordshire

New subjects such as history and geography are a waste of time when the basics are not there
Lesley Carruthers, Horton, Berkshire
My son is in year 3 he still does not know the entire alphabet so can only read a few words. He should have repeated year 1 or year 2 so that the basics are there before being moved up. New subjects such as history and geography are a waste of time when the basics are not there. The education establishment is setting him up to fail as he will always be one of the weakest in the class.
Lesley Carruthers, Horton, Berkshire

Part of the blame lies at home with parents as well, who will not sit down with their children and help them read or write. My parents both worked full time but always found time to help us with reading and writing and other subjects.
Yvonne, Liverpool, UK

Surely this is more to do with parents failing to take the time to show an interest in their children's educational development rather than anything else. If you are reading to or with your children, surely this would help them progress. If not, they won't!
Nadia , Manchester

Parents needs educating and support to encourage their children to read for pleasure and it has to start very young. Teachers can only do so much in the time they have and reading and writing outside classroom hours is crucial in developing these skills. Excessive hours spent in front of the TV or computer games have had a hugely detrimental impact on other leisure activities as demonstrated in these findings.
Sadie Elliott, Sheffield

Failing performance for boys- especially black, is it a self fulfilling prophecy- they are not expected to do well by teachers or society as a whole, so they don't try or expect to succeed themselves. Boys in general, may submit to the school 'lad' culture, where studying is for 'geeks', and to be accepted in a peer group, they need to act thick and play the fool. Girls, on the other hand, can be seen to enjoy studying, and reading in particular. Re primary levels of reading- perhaps more attention needs to be spent on identifying dyslexia in all its forms, and helping children in nursery- as they begin to learn to read.
Karen Tarjomi, Southport England

Come on society, stop blaming teachers and look to yourselves
Dennis Kelly, Lichfield Staffordshire
Schools can only do so much. I have some contact with educators and I know that schools work harder than ever to maintain standards let alone improve them in the face of little or no support from parents. The view of many parents is that learning is done in schools only and pay little regard to their own responsibilities in educating their children. TV is more often than not used as a method for pacifying young children, this and the advent of games machines and computers has replaced reading in the home and so the good that is done in school is not reinforced. Come on society, stop blaming teachers and look to yourselves.
Dennis Kelly, Lichfield Staffordshire

The problem lies in insufficient development of writing (composition) in primary schools. Children are not sufficiently encouraged to compose text (fact and fiction)over time. They complete too many cloze tasks or short sentence constructions. Much more could be done to encourage composition using computers (word processing) where children should compose by drafting (from essay/writing plans taught at the desk) and then correct, improve and extend this text over days/weeks. As with writing tasks, too many computer exercises are short term and include only simple exercises based at learning the technical functions rather than being used to improve literacy and numeracy
Skilllman, East Sussex

I'm shocked. How come so many pupils are leaving school with A* in English and the figures go up each year?
Vanda Evans, London, UK

Not a great deal you can't teach a child or anyone that does not want to learn, without either support from parents or society as whole. Sad but true
Joel Cassin, London

I find it very difficult to read the homework of my nieces and nephews, who range in age from 7 to 17. The bad handwriting I can cope with - the lack of grammar and the multitude of spelling mistakes appal me and there never seems to be any correction on these made by their teachers. The bad grammar spills over into their speech, and I find myself correcting them constantly. More of an effort should be made by schools (and parents)to teach children correct grammar from an early age, or we will end up with a generation of illiterates speaking like a bad Eastenders character.
Emily James, Hayes, Middx, UK

Adopt part of the US system, if a child doesn't reach a certain standard they must repeat the year. Then the children that mature more slowly will have a chance to develop their skills.
Chris, UK

We have just taken our children out of the state schooling because the local, recently combined infants and juniors seemed to be happy to "tick the boxes" and no more. The previous head was brilliant and had all of the children keen to achieve, some very good staff and parents that were involved in the school. Now the head comes out with all this New Labour "we are in a difficult urban area" rubbish and the perceived expected level of achievement has taken a nose dive. The cost of our children's education is less than per head than the state is throwing at the LEA bureaucrats , with a bit left over to actually teach, and the teacher pupil ratio, and general attitude and discipline is a quantum leap away from what they have left. Heads need to be leaders not box tickers and should be able to run their schools in the successful manner that their private brethren do.
Jon, Birmingham UK





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