Friday, November 02, 2007


It was a sad day, in my view, when politicians decided reading and writing were not good enough for our children, and started to pour huge amounts of money into something called "literacy" instead.

We now discover that (at least in the UK) this money has been almost completely wasted. Levels of "literacy" are scarcely better than fifty years ago, and the putative rise in "standards" are an illusion based on faulty methodology. This according to independent researchers at the University of Cambridge.

Source: Primary Review via BBC News November 2nd 2007.

There are several possible reactions to this story, depending on your party affiliation.
  • Denial. "There are lots of other studies that demonstrate just how important and valuable these literacy initiatives have been."
  • Escalation. "We obviously haven't done enough. We need more money, more initiatives, more targets, more effective initiatives."
  • Relief. "Given the vast increase in television and other distractions, we should be happy that literacy levels haven't deteriorated over the past fifty years."
Given the vast amounts of money that governments are capable of wasting on other useless or counter-productive initiatives, or bailing out reckless financiers, a mere five hundred million pounds hardly seems worth bothering about. What does that amount to anyway - one cheap paperback per child?

Update: further commentary from Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, English 'losing out' to literacy (BBC News, 9th April 2009)

See also Michael Rosen, Who Owns Literacy? (Feb 2012)

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