In her review of the TV programme Jay Blades: Learning to Read at 51, Lucy Mangan notes that there are 8 million adults in the UK who struggle with reading. Also, as about 25% of state school pupils do not meet the expected reading standards by the age of 11, it seems that things aren’t going to improve any day soon.
In 1999, Sir Claus Moser was commissioned by the government to produce a report on adult literacy and numeracy (known as the Moser report). In this he concluded that 23% of adults in this country had low literacy skills and recommended a national strategy to improve the situation.
However, despite successive governments having spent billions of pounds on a variety of programmes to rectify this, in almost 25 years there has been little or no improvement.
If we really do wish to “level up”, surely this is the one area where resources should be directed. One thing the investment in these various literacy projects has thrown up over the years is a huge amount of practical evidence, which can point the way to how future programmes could be successful.
With 22% of the population living in poverty, it is surely the time to recognise the old adage and not just “give a man a fish” but to teach him to fish so that he may feed himself and his family for life. Improving adult literacy (and numeracy) is the starting point.
Like Lucy Mangan, I was moved by Jay Blades’ account of his struggle to read. I too weep at the numbers who fail, but I would take issue with the educational psychologist who stops short of explaining this failure by simply quoting the correlation between poverty/free school meals and illiteracy. It is not poverty or lack of parental support that causes a child in school to fail to read.
In my experience as a special educational needs teacher, it was those factors which prevented many children from breaking through the far more damaging pressure of being forced to learn to read and write too young.
No other language culture in Europe expects children to code and decode written language before they are six or seven years old. Our children have their confidence destroyed by being required at the age of four or five to read and write a language they have barely mastered speaking; that and the doctrinaire and narrow teaching method of synthetic phonics.