ONE CHILD IN FIVE LEAVING SCHOOL IS UNABLE TO READ

This article by LAURA CLARK, Education Correspondent to the Daily Mail, appeared in that newspaper on 8 May 2010.

One in five teenagers leaves school illiterate and innumerate despite two decades of education reform, research shows.  More than 100,000 lack the basic skills needed to function in society.

A study found there has been little or no change in the last 20 years in the proportion of youngsters rendered unemployable because they have such a poor grasp of words and numbers.  About 17 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds are functionally illiterate, according to the study led by Professor Greg Brooks from the University of Sheffield.  'People at this level can handle only simple tests and straightforward questions on them where no distracting information is adjacent or nearby,' the study said.
'Making inferences and understanding forms of indirect meaning, e.g. allusion and irony, are likely to be difficult or impossible.
'This is less than the functional literacy needed to partake fully in employment, family life and citizenship and to enjoy reading for its own sake.'
Some 22 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds are essentially innumerate, according to the study. This means they have 'very basic competence in maths, mainly limited to arithmetical computations and some ability to comprehend and use other forms of mathematical information'.
The study adds: 'While this is valuable, it is clearly not enough to deal confidently with many of the mathematical challenges of contemporary life.'  Levels of functional innumeracy are even higher among older age groups, the research claims.
The Tories claim Labour has been too slow to embrace the 'synthetic phonics' method of teaching children to read, which has been credited with virtually wiping out illiteracy where it has been used.  The technique, which involves teaching children the sounds that make up words, was made mandatory only four years ago.

The failure to get to grips with the basics early on is thought to increase pupils' disaffection with school, leading to them becoming alienated and dropping out.
Teachers said a 'long tail of underachievement' had long been a feature of English education.
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said the Government should offer one-to-one tuition for pupils, support for parents and more training for teachers.  But he added: 'There are no magic solutions.'
The study, which analysed decades of evidence, found that the average reading scores for 13 to 19-year-olds improved between 1948 and 1960 but remained 'remarkably constant' between 1960 and 1988.  They rose 'gently' until 2004 before a further plateau.  Writing performance has been relatively static since 1979.
The study was published by the Times Educational Supplement as it emerged that one in three primary schools are failing to meet a Labour performance benchmark and facing greater scrutiny from local authorities and Government.
About 6,000 primaries are deemed to be under-achieving or 'coasting' because they are failing to improve results fast enough.
Labour has spent billions on a string of initiatives aimed at raising standards of basic skills.  This has included giving teachers extra training in grammar and maths and making them follow prescribed lesson plans.
A 'functional skills' exam for 16-year-olds was devised to tackle employers' concerns, but plans to make passing this a pre-condition of good GCSE results were dropped.
Labour embraced the Conservatives' primary school literacy hour in 1997 and introduced a similar initiative for maths, before extending the drive to secondary schools.
But it dropped the prescribed daily literacy and numeracy hours following numerous updates to the programmes and evidence that test results were stalling.




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