As a former Deputy Head teacher and class teacher for 22 years I was appalled by the latest survey by the London Evening Standard that points out that thousands of 11 year olds start their secondary school with a reading age of 7.
I was interviewed on London LBC Radio this week about this shocking statistic.
When I taught in Reception I had 35 five year olds unable to read – but by the end of that first year in school ALL of them could read…… why?
Because I heard them read every day, read stories and sang songs with them, taught them phonics, laughed at picture books , showed them different ways to use their fingers to point to at words, taught them rhyme and the rhythm to reading and insisted that their parents heard them every day too for 10 minutes.
It’s not rocket science – but it is empowering children with the skills and the love of reading that they need to succeed in the world.
Even 3rd world countries know that reading and education is the key to success and empowerment from poverty.
So not only must the school system take it’s place in the process but so must parents be taught that they are severely FAILING their children and disempowering them if they do not help them to learn to read.
You can’t drive, open a bank account, fill in a form, enjoy any technology, join in or feel confident if you can’t read.
We need to get celebrities involved to make it cool to read, teachers need support and praise, some parents need educating and kids need help to escape a prison of ignorance.
This is not about finger pointing but about doing something positive quickly to sort it out otherwise London will have a whole generation of children let down and denied the most basic of life skills.
Here’s an upbeat video that needs a London twist from the Black Eyed Peas – called “Gotta Keep Reading”
Here is the article form The Evening Standard
“When a teacher asked his pupils to bring in a book from home, one nine-year-old brought the Argos catalogue, saying: ‘It’s the only one we’ve got.’
On Day One of our exposé of London‘s illiteracy crisis, we highlight the children struggling to learn to read in families where they get no help. The inspirational girl interviewed on this page had to overcome huge obstacles . Over the next four days we will be talking to teachers, experts and employers and asking what we can do to tackle a problem that shames this great city.
Seven-year-old Aurella is a picture of concentration. Eyes glued to the television, she manipulates the controls of her Xbox 360, immersed in her favourite Mini Ninjas game.
All around, her room is full of soft toys and games bought by her hardworking mother Anna Brzezowska. But the one item you’d expect to find is absent. There are no books.
Across the hall of their small, neat flat in Ealing, her mother’s bedroom has a widescreen TV and piles of DVDs but again, no books, not even a magazine.
Aurella is a captivating young girl, but no amount of charm has been able to persuade her mother to take her to the library. “We pass the library on the bus,” she says, “and I always ask, ‘Mum, can we go?’ but mum says, “Maybe tomorrow, Aurella.”
At an age when children’s literacy takes off, and they are expected to read for 20 minutes a day at home to keep up with classmates, Aurella has nothing to read and nobody at home to read to. It’s hardly surprising her ability lagged three years behind that of her peers.
Her plight is alarmingly common. New research, obtained exclusively by the Standard, reveals that one in three children does not have a book of their own at home. By contrast, a separate survey shows 85 per cent of London children own a computer games console.
Researcher Christina Clark surveyed 18,000 pupils in 111 British schools. She found that children with no books had lower levels of attainment, negative attitudes to reading, and read “less frequently”. They were two-and-a-half times more likely to fall below the expected reading level for their age. The figures will be released next month by the National Literacy Trust.
The full facts are stark: one in four children leaves the capital’s state primaries unable to read properly. Five per cent can hardly read at all. In inner-city schools 40 per cent leave primary school with the reading age of a six to nine-year-old, says the Centre for Policy Studies.
This is a betrayal of our children, but it is a tragedy for society, too. The conveyor belt from illiteracy to exclusion to unemployment and, all too often, criminality, is well documented. A recent Prison Reform Trust study found 48 per cent of inmates have the reading age of a seven-year-old or younger.
One million adult Londoners – one in six – are functionally illiterate. Evidence shows they are more likely to end up on state benefits, in overcrowded housing, divorced, in poor health and in prison.
The Standard has spoken to teachers across the city. One told of a nine-year-old boy asked to bring a book from home to share with his class. He brought the Argos catalogue, saying: “It’s the only book my family have.”
Former Ofsted director Sir Jim Rose, author of several reports on literacy, says: “We are in serious trouble. We have entered the era of the Argos catalogue family, those with no books of their own at home. We need to do something urgently. It is a responsibility we cannot afford to shirk.”
The Standard is publishing a week of articles exposing London’s literacy crisis. Aurella’s story is a wake-up call – but also offers hope that we can turn illiterate children into eager readers.
When she started at Viking primary in Northolt in 2009, Aurella joined a school where, for 80 per cent of pupils, English is not their first language. She spoke Polish at home and arrived at the school gates without a word of English: “When I started I didn’t even know how to ask for toilet, or lunch. Children were asking me things but I couldn’t understand. I just shook my head.
“I felt terrible and told mum I wanted [to go] back to Poland. The children helped me.
They taught me “hello”, “I like you”, “do you want to play?” I took eight days to make my first friend.” Aurella learned to fit in socially, but her academic progress was slow.
Viking headteacher Sue Townson recalls her as “an anxious, nervous child” whose reading was “two to three years behind her peers. Understandably she was very quiet and got easily distressed. Reading affects everything: if you can’t read, your ability to do maths and science is limited because you can’t grasp the problem. And it has a huge impact on a child’s confidence and self-esteem.”
Aurella’s difficulty was compounded by having nobody to read with at home. Single mother Anna, 27, who came to London when Aurella was three, can barely read English. According to the National Literacy Trust, lack of help at home is widespread, with 80 per cent of parents “struggling to find the opportunity to read with their children”.
Immigration is often used as an excuse for low literacy levels, but heads such as Sir Michael Wilshaw, of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, have shown that with proper support, migrant pupils can make outstanding progress. Ms Townson says one way of helping children is to help parents: “We run a course for illiterate parents called Keeping Up With The Children.” A dozen attend classes, but Aurella’s mother is not one of them.
“I have no time because I work long hours as cleaner and before that three years on shopfloor at Asda,” says Anna. “I earn £700 a month, I pay rent, I take no government handouts. I was first Polish person to work at Asda Wembley Park store and I learned English from people there. I came to London after Aurella’s father left me – to make good future for Aurella.
“When we arrive, Aurella speak no English same like me, but now she is my teacher. When I fill out council forms, I ask Aurella. Sometimes I get post and call my friend because I don’t understand some word and Aurella comes running and shouts, “Mum, don’t call friend, I know that word!”
But with Aurella lacking support at home, and her teacher unable, in a class of 30, to give her the attention she needed, Ms Townson drafted in help. She allocated Aurella a worker from Volunteer Reading Help, a charity that trains adults to provide one-on-one support in schools.
Twice a week for the last nine months, Aurella has been taken out of class to read for half an hour with Zainab Reddy, a mother of three.
I watch as she sits at a low table in the library with Mrs Reddy. “The book we are reading is called Animal Tales,” Aurella says. “It’s like a play. I choose to be fox and Mrs Reddy is crow. “Animal Tales,” she begins proudly. “This fox who is cunning and…” She gets stuck on “clever”, reading it as “creven”, then “cleever”. She tries to break up the word phonetically.
“Have you heard of the word clever?” asks Mrs Reddy. “Oh yes!” says Aurella excitedly, “clever!” She gallops on.
Mrs Reddy, one of three volunteers at the school, describes how Aurella has risen up the school’s colour-coded reading scheme from pink (“picture books”) to red (“four words per page”), to yellow and now blue, adding: “She is an amazing and determined child.”
Ms Townson agrees: “Aurella is catching up and is only a year behind her peers now. She is a bright girl, her confidence has come on in leaps and bounds.”
Anna is proud of her daughter: “Aurella used to be only interested in computer games but since she start with Mrs Reddy, she loves reading.” When I ask why there are no English books at home, she looks shamefaced. “Maybe I take her to library,” she says.
Aurella jumps up, smiling and laughing. She takes a book from her bag and starts to read aloud. Several pages in, she stops and says: “My mum can’t read this. I taught my mum to say ‘red’ and ‘orange’ because she don’t know those words. When I started, I thought reading was hard. But Mrs Reddy has helped me. Now I’m a great reader.”
Aurella may have found her catcher in the rye. But with 72,000 British children arriving at high school every year unable to read to the expected level, and the shocking rise of the Argos catalogue family, there is urgent work to be done.