Literacy and deprivation

This morning on the radio we heard that in some schools, some boys are moving to secondary school with the literacy of a 7 year old. I believe that it is the school systems, not the teaching approaches that needs to be analysed and improved if standards are to rise for this population.

Parental Involvement and Enjoyment

We already know that in primary education, parental involvement is the single most significant factor in determining children’s literacy attainments, along with many other aspects of learning and adjustment ( see blog on Raising Aspiration for more on this). The most effective parental involvement is parents giving children opportunities to share and talk about a wide range of educational experiences together.

If parents go for walks with their children and talk about what they see and wonder out loud together about the world, it is likely that when it comes to reading, they will do the same. Some people say that in some families the discipline is lacking and this is prevents these experiences and discussions from taking place. My experience is that when parents enjoy sharing activities with their children from an early age, discipline is less of a problem. Begin by enjoying activities together and talking about them, and discipline grows naturally out of this relationship, because a good connection has been made between child and parents.

Closing the Gap

Nearly every literacy and educational attainment initiative aimed at “closing the gap” has failed. Resisting again my urge to draw a Normal Curve, I will simply say that the most successful projects are those that aim to raise attainment of the whole community and shift the curve to the right, thus bringing the attainments of the lowest achievers into the domain previously inhabited by the majority. We don’t need to worry about the high achievers doing even better – or is it preferable to hold these children back in order to “close he gap”? I don’t think so.

The System is at Fault

There are factors inherent within the education system that not only cause many school problems but that accentuate the problems a child may bring to school

William Glasser Schools Without Failure ( 1975)

Before looking at whether one reading scheme is better than another, let’s look at the system that needs sorting. Our 3 and 4 year olds come to school to face a curriculum that bears little or no relationship to their home lives. What parental connection there is before the child starts in a school usually consists of encouraging parents to start bringing the school into the home, rather than the school using these opportunities to learn about the home and bring the home values and interests into the school.

A couple of years ago the National Union of Teachers carried out a study into the kind of school leadership that was most effective for white working class pupils. It was no surprise to me that the most successful schools in this cohort were led by heads who either came from a very similar background to the children, or who held the parents and their values in high esteem and wanted to bring these values into school.

One school I know takes the parental contributions to education very seriously. Firstly, they do everything they can to help parents of new children to feel they belong and are valued by the school. They do this by organising activities such as class barbecues with the main objective to help parents to get to know each other and the children in their child’s class. The Head of this school believes that if parents get to know each other from the outset, they will put school and other parents into their Quality Worlds and will the be prepared to put a great deal of effort into being part of this community and helping their children to learn. The classrooms of the youngest children have collages with family members and pets displayed alongside pictures of the children – a sign that everybody is important and home life and values are respected here.

So, the choice of literacy approach is a bit of a red herring, in my mind. What is more important is that children come to school seeing that there is a relevance between what goes on here and their lives back at home. If they see that the school values their parents and everyone in the family feels welcomed and valued in school, they will want to join in with the activities the teacher designs for them.

Now Read: Home Relevant Literacy

9 Questions about Detention

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