Poor literacy skills was a contributing factor in last summer’s riots in England, according to the report out this week from the Riots, Communities and Victims panel. Of course the report acknowledged the causes of the riots were complex and proposed a myriad of potential solutions to avoid a repetition but I think that one of the recommendations is ridiculous: that schools should be fined if children leave school without being able to read and write to an age-appropriate standard.
Of course it’s a disgrace that a fifth of school leavers only have the literacy skills of an 11 year old or younger, but I think there are two fundamental problems with this supposed solution:
1. Where do the report authors think that money will come from? Schools are (by and large) not private enterprises, so they have a finite amount of funding and resources to spend on all pupils. So who will suffer if you take funds away from a school? It will only harm all the other pupils in the school who are already affected by limited resources. According to the report the funds raised from fining schools would be used to improve the literacy standards of those lacking them. Really? How? The administration of the system would take a chunk of the amount raised through fines. Wouldn’t it be much better to support schools with extra funding to ensure pupils learn to read while they are actually at school?
2. Schools don’t operate in a vacuum and while I agree that it is a school’s job to teach reading and writing, they aren’t solely responsible for this. Parents have a role and far too many parents simply opt out of helping their children read. There was a report in the Mirror this week where three out of four fathers said job pressures stop them bonding over a bedtime story and nearly one in 10 admitted they have never enjoyed a book with their children. I’m a parent myself and I know how time-pressured we all are, but we all make choices as to how to spend our time and I bet most of those dads could find the time to read to their children if they cut down on watching TV/playing a computer game/going to the pub etc. It only takes 10 minutes to read a bedtime story. And it’s not just parents. Libraries play a vital role in promoting a love of reading and yet the Government is busy making cuts to these services. Bookstart, another important initiative is also being continually threatened.
I’m glad the importance of literacy skills was highlighted in this report because it does link to so many personal and social problems but as a society we should be looking at ways to support schools not threatening them.