Last week the BBC news reported 10% of 11 year old boys have a reading age of 7 or less. Michael Gove was interviewed and predicatbly said the solution is to give schools more freedom so that those who get the best results can support others.
Primary school is the time to learn how to read. By the time children move to secondary school at age 11 it is too late. Academic studies found that text books for year 7 (the first year of secondary school) typically require a reading age of 13 or 14 years. They are a struggle for 11 year olds but will be an impossibility for someone with a reading age of only 7. Secondary school teachers are trained and expect to teach subjects, they assume that the basics - reading and maths have been covered in primary school. Secondary school teachers just don't have the time or skills to focus on reading.
A couple or weeks ago we had a contract monitoring meeting with representatives of Gateshead Council. Last summer Gateshead looked at their data on 'vulnerable' children - the ones that need most help in school. They looked at many factors and found that typically vulnerable children had 6 or more factors but almost always had the same four factors. The four factors are - free school meals (meaning children from poorer families), late birthday (meaning born after Christmas so younger when they started school and remaining among the younger members of the class), poor scores at Key Stage 1 maths, and poor scores at Key Stage 1 reading.
Children learn to read when people read to them at home and with them at school. Many primary schools employ learning support assistants or volunteers to help children with their reading. However not all can afford to do this or have local communities able or prepared to give time to help children read.
School leadership counts for much but so do money and community resources. Michael Gove says the 'pupil premium' - £430 a year for each pupil registered for free school meals, will enable schools to provide whatever support they think best. Doubtless David Cameron would say the 'Big Society' would encourage adults to volunteer to help out in schools, but is that realistic in all communities?