Improving literacy in schools

Crawley MP Henry Smith's latest column
Crawley MP Henry Smith's latest column

As I get my children ready to go back to school one of the things that I’m fascinated by are the books that they and their class are reading.

Last year, I was pleased to be a parliamentary supporter of ‘Read On. Get On’, a campaign backed by Save the Children and aiming to improve literacy standards in schools. Its goal is to for all children to be reading well by the age of 11 in 2025.

Ahead of the launch of ‘Reading England’s Future’, a report by Save the Children I wrote for PoliticsHome about the importance of us all working together to improve educational standards.

One in four children leave primary school without achieving an adequate standard in reading, and among the poorest children that rises to 40 per cent. That figure is far too high; it is right to call on not only government, but teachers, parents, grandparents and communities to take action to improve it.

This isn’t a party political campaign. It has the support of a host of leading figures from entertainment and the literary world, as well as the former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major, former Labour Education Secretary David Blunkett, and the former Liberal Democrat Leader, Paddy Ashdown.

While this Government has done huge amounts to raise standards for all children, particularly the poorest, I know we can do more.

The new and improved curriculum will better challenge pupils, and ensure that they’re equipped with the necessary tools to go on to further learning later on. The Pupil Premium has also been introduced, seeing additional funding attached to the most disadvantaged children and worth £2.5billion this year.

This extra support is targeted at the poorest children, and creates enormous potential for schools to help those children catch up.

Of course, there is more to do. The three aims of the ‘Read On. Get On’ campaign are:

All early years settings and schools signing up to support and promote the achievement of the ‘Read On. Get On.’ goal locally

To work with early years leads and headteachers to encourage them to become champions of the campaign, with some schools becoming beacons of good practice for working with their local communities to celebrate and improve reading

Creating talking and reading towns and cities, to bring together schools and early years services, such as in Sheffield

There are two main routes to poor reading at 11, Firstly, poor language development before a child turns 5; and secondly, poor progress in reading between five and 11.

Some areas suffer both, some areas make decent progress between five and 11 but from very low starting points, and other areas achieve poor progress between five and 11 for their disadvantaged pupils, despite reasonably good starting points.

Last year, I contacted schools throughout Crawley about this campaign, to ask for their views on the report and its general ideas. I have met with Save the Children about this campaign as well, and I await to see how we can move forward to improve the prospects of all our children.