Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
Image of Hilary Wilce

The Quandary - 14 Jun 2007

Children’s reading and writing are not improving. Are schools to blame, or is this the limit?

Hillary's Advice

When Labour came into power and vowed to drive up educational standards there was lots of slack in the system and test scores shot up. But for years now the problem has been how to galvanise the stubborn bottom end of kids whose progress is handicapped by specific difficulties or poor attitudes.

Are schools to blame for failing to do this? In part, yes. There are lots of good teachers out there, but plenty of bad ones too, and it can be tooth-grindingly awful to sit in a class where you can see, almost on a minute-by-minute basis, children’s interest and motivation being stifled as it struggles to flower.

But far more influential are parents.

Go to any children’s playground these days and you will see parents talking into their mobile phones, but not to their babies, or listening to their iPods, but not to their toddlers. These are parents who are failing to develop the early familiarity with language which children need, in order launch themselves successfully into reading and writing. Then there are all the many parents who send their children to school tired, ill-fed and unexercised, or else anxious, insecure or unsettled – none of their children will be ready for a good day’s learning.

To make progress at school now we need to make much more progress at home. And that is a very tough call indeed. Because while it is a relatively easy thing to get the bulk of children to read and write better than they used to do, it is quite another to tackle the entrenched attitudes which prevent many of the others from even starting to fulfil their potential.