According to an article on the BBC News website today (28th March 2012), which you can read by clicking on this link, a government study lays some of the blame for last year’s inner city rioting at the foot of schools. They say that schools have failed to raise standards of literacy in children, and that this means that they leave school unfit for work, and the rigours of the world in general. This, coupled with a failure on the school’s part to provide adequate career’s guidance has led to the creation of disaffected youths who are ready to riot at the drop of a hat.
The report goes on to say that schools who are found to have failed pupils in terms of literacy and appropriate career guidance should be fined, and made to pay the cost of raising the child’s literacy levels to an appropriate standard.
Spokespeople for School associations and Unions are obviously outraged at these recommendations.
They make the point that schools do try to look after a child’s moral upbringing and boost their confidence, which the report suggests should be a key responsibility of schools, but that their main job is to teach, and as they are already stretched by the demands of the national curriculum it is hard to see where they will be able to fit in these extra ‘character building lessons’, and also to envisage what they would be like.
They claim that fining a school for failing to bring a child up to the standards of literacy required, but then also expecting the school to educate the child further will not work because money and resources are already massively stretched, and the financial penalties will only mean that there is less money available for actual education.
They also argue that such fines will remove resources from across the board and penalise children who haven’t done anything wrong.
I, personally, find myself in sympathy with the teachers on this one. I think the recommendations the report makes are unrealistic in the current educational environment, and unless there is a massive sea change in education generally, I do not see where all these miraculous fixes will be slotted in to already pushed to the limit time tables.
I think that trying to raise standards of literacy in teenagers, although worthwhile, misses the point that if literacy was approached differently in primary schools, there would me much less need for this fire fighting in secondary schools.
I do not disagree that there is a problem with literacy rates in this country, far from it. I am all too aware of the low standards of achievement in literacy rates, but I do not think financial punishments and lessons in ‘moral fibre’ are the way forward.
I also think that the report ignores the fact that schools can only do so much and that no matter what the schools do, if the child’s home environment is damaging, and if the child’s parent and wider family are barely literate, then for the most part schools are fighting a losing battle. Communities need to work together to combat problems with literacy, or progress will be slow and extremely uneven, much like it is currently.
Literacy, from the moment a child steps into school should be something which is not taught in isolation, but which permeates every aspect of the school day. It should involve teaching children to read for pleasure, to pick up a book and think of it as an exciting adventure, to think of it as something that will help and support them, rather than something which is hard and scary and difficult. Then, then you can teach them its wider applications, and those lessons will stick.
Of course, it’s easy for me to say that, not so easy to do I think, but worth it.
Definitely worth it.