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Literacy and numeracy standards

(95 Posts)
Sel Wed 09-Oct-13 15:51:29

There appear to be rather a lot people on Gransnet who have been or are involved in education. According to the latest OECD report, England is the only country in the developed world that has grandparents who are cleverer than their grandchildren. Our 16-24 year olds are some of the least literate and numerate - 22nd out of 24 in literacy, 21st out of 24 in numeracy.

Given the amount of Gransnet vitriol heaped on Michael Gove, who is presumably, trying to remedy this shocking situation I wondered if anyone knows why standards have fallen so much.

whenim64 Wed 09-Oct-13 16:33:47

I wasn't involved in education, but before I retired I did see the outcome of persistent failure to address inequality and lack of attainment in many young people who had not thrived in education, and lived in deprived areas. Apparently, this dates back 30 years, and no single poltical party has addressed it satisfactorily.

Good article here:

Mishap Wed 09-Oct-13 16:34:40

Well - one of the reasons is that education became a political football and the views of the professionals (i.e. the teachers, many with years of experience) take second place to political window-dressing.

For years children have been educated under a trendy anything goes/all children are equal system that has clearly failed them;but instead of trying to sort this out properly for the benefit of pupils of all abilities, Gove (and others before him of different political persuasion) have tipped the pendulum the other way and got hooked on tests, league tables, assessment, monitoring, the "market", targets and the micro-management of education by people who know nothing whatever about it - and in the process we have lost the support of the teaching profession, whose skills are undervalued.

The government needs to hand the management of education back to people who know what they are talking about and leave them free to use their professional judgement about each individual child, rather than being tied to targets which dehumanize and standardize all involved.

Of course there needs to be some sort of process for making sure that schools meet the needs of their pupils, but it needs to focus on good professional teacher/managers as the tool for achieving this in each individual school.

Jendurham Wed 09-Oct-13 16:42:25

Could it not just be that the standards of people in our age group were rather high anyway?
My 20 year old granddaughter got As or A* in maths and English , language and literature as well as another 10 subjects, so she might resent the implication as much as I do. It all depends on what they were testing, as usual. When I was in primary school, i used to get 100% in all maths, English and general knowledge tests twice a year, but that was when the 11+ was on, so we were taught to the test. Also, there was not as much knowledge for us to learn.
When teaching, pre computers, we used to teach library skills, so kids could find the knowledge for themselves.
Kids these days have to learn so much more, I am sorry for them always being compared with other people, other nations. We did not have that pressure.
Michael Gove deserves all the vitriol he gets. He wants to go back to facts, as in Dickensian times. He also wants to go back to sitting in rows and learning by rote, which is how my grandmother managed to control classes of 60+.

Not quite to the point but similar, I read that the head of NHS England wants to reduce the number of years it takes to train a doctor to 2 because they can use computers to find out much of what they are deemed to need to know at the moment. What would you think of that?

Mamie Wed 09-Oct-13 16:52:10

This is a summary of the main findings (from a contributor to the very measured debate on Mumsnet).
- Inequality in skills is associated with inequality in income
- Social background has a major impact on literacy skills.
- Much of learning takes place outside formal education
- Many adults with low skills proficiency are outside the workforce.
I don't think you can read much into the fact that young adults in the UK perform less well than their grandparents, given that the older generation in the UK performed much better than anywhere else in the survey.
I think there is a real problem, as when says, with the education, progress and basic skills of the bottom twenty per cent of achievement (I am not including SEN here). I think there is a massive problem with attitudes to education in some families. I don't think any political party or government has manages to do very much to solve this. I think people need to read the full survey before commenting. This is not a report that is amenable to soundbite / newspaper headline stuff.

Mamie Wed 09-Oct-13 17:01:45

Just out of interest Sel, because I think you said you are married to an American and spend time there, do you have a view on why the US comes bottom?
Would also add that fully comprehensive education is obviously working very well in Finland.

Sel Wed 09-Oct-13 17:12:34

It's very sad for this generation of young people. Tony Blair's pledge of education, education, education rings somewhat hollow. Throwing money at something doesn't solve everything and schools had a lot during the Labour years and grades went up to keep everyone happy. These figures concern those 16 years and up, Labour was in power for 13 of them so blaming Michael Gove is hardly fair.

I agree that Government should listen to experts in education but those experts should also listen to business - what skills do children need to make them employable.

Social mobility in this country is also the worst in the developed world - education was my route out of my background sadly it won't be for these 16-24 year olds.

Sel Wed 09-Oct-13 17:17:36

Mamie the report does say all those things you quote from Mumsnet but the point is against a league of 24 developed counties we are pretty near the bottom. I have no idea why the US scores lower on numeracy than we do - I will canvas opinions smile

Mamie Wed 09-Oct-13 17:51:38

We are actually not far below average in literacy, but we are down in numeracy. I ask the question about the States, Sel, because it seems to me that social exclusion might be a factor in underachievement there too. I think the point is that the majority perform comparatively well in the UK, but that there is a group of young people who consistently under-perform and are hard to reach. These are often the young people who end up as NEETs (not in education, employment or training). have spent a large portion of my life working in school improvement and I am not remotely complacent about this, but it is a problem that goes way beyond schools.
Constant change, education as a political football, independent and selective schools; none of these help. Initiatives such as Sure Start might have made a difference, but these things take time and the press and the public demand instant results.
And Gove hadn't a clue. (In the interests of political neutrality I don't think Stephen Twigg had either, but he has gone)...

Mamie Wed 09-Oct-13 17:52:52

Sorry - I have spent.... (Editing problem).

Sel Wed 09-Oct-13 18:18:13

Mamie far below average in literacy? I'll bow to your superior numeracy skills but how is 22nd out of 24 average?

You are probably right about the US Mamie The poor schools skew the tables. I watched a programme recently about Detroit where the schools had actually closed. It's very different there, funding is localised, not federal. If you have the money, you move into a 'good' area where the school will be well funded through your local taxes. If you don't have children, you avoid those areas because your taxes pay for schools you don't need. Hence 'Senior' communities and communities of families with school age children.

The US has most of the best Universities in the world but I'd hazard a guess that they have few pupils from deprived areas (unless on a sports scholarship) One way or another schooling is selective sadly.

absent Wed 09-Oct-13 18:28:19

The assessment or judgement about the "score" of universities in a "league table" is a very different process from that for schools because research, rather than teaching may feature in a big way. Tertiary education is something of a red herring here.

Mamie Wed 09-Oct-13 18:35:11

I was using Robert Peston's analysis Sel.

"The proportion of adults in England and Northern Ireland with relatively sophisticated literacy skills is only a bit below the average for the 24 surveyed nations, significantly worse than for Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, but a bit better than for Germany and the US.
And England/Northern Ireland has a big proportion of adults with some of the highest literacy scores. So when it comes to the ability to understand and draw conclusions from written texts, British people do pretty well."

By way of explanation, I managed to read the original report first thing this morning, but once the rest of the village woke up, I didn't have enough bandwidth to download it, so had to rely on the analysis of others. Such is life in the bandwidth wastelands of rural France....

Granny23 Wed 09-Oct-13 18:38:48

This report seems to refer to England and sometimes England +N. Ireland but not Scotland or Wales. It has left me wondering if the different systems in Scotland and Wales are producing better results (as I suspect) or not. Has anyone any further information on this point?

JessM Wed 09-Oct-13 18:39:49

Remind us what gove has done for literacy and numeracy Sel.
My view is that primary schools should have progress targets but much less tinkering and interference about how they achieve them. If you got the literacy and numeracy progress right at 7 and at 11, then secondary schools would have a fighting chance.
This is certainly not a tribute to the primary national curriculum is it. All those "literacy hours"...
I remember a few years ago when Ch of Govs having conversations about the need to improve literacy in secondary school (lots of problems). Dawned on me that "literacy" meant something different to secondary school teachers - it related to the English curriculum requirements. I was talking about reading and we had very many poor readers. Poor kids - how can the access secondary curriculum if they are reading like a 6 year old? YOu have no hope passing maths GCSE if you are not a decent reader. One question referred to "charlotte potatoes" shock
Reading improvement programme was introduced and a senior staff member with a specific brief for literacy was recruited. Things are now much improved and results at 16 lifted out of the "failing" band.

Mamie Wed 09-Oct-13 18:43:33

I gather that Scotland and Wales did not take part because it was too expensive. It was not a very big sample.

Sel Wed 09-Oct-13 19:12:45

Well this is a report from the OECD, not the Daily Mail. 166,000 partipants across 24 countries. Somehow I choose to believe it as many, outside of those employed in education have been saying the same for a long time.

Sel Wed 09-Oct-13 19:18:03

I didn't grow up in a wealthy area jessM but I can't remember any child in my class being unable to read. Hopefully Michael give will take education back to those times because it sure isn`t working now.

Mamie Wed 09-Oct-13 19:30:44

The nearest figure I could find was that there were 7.4 million 18-24 year olds in the UK in 2007. I know there are over a million NEETs in that age group. Roughly 7000 participants per country in the survey? Obviously just England and Northern Ireland in the survey, but it still seems quite a small sample.

Sel Wed 09-Oct-13 20:09:45

I guess you'd have to take that up with the OECD mamie I presume they thought it worth publishing confused

BAnanas Wed 09-Oct-13 21:11:05

I felt my childrens' maths lessons at primary school were particularly woeful, insomuch as they appeared to flit between different topics. So for example a few days on long division, before moving on to a few days doing fractions, this approach may have been fine for the most capable pupils but for those who didn't grasp a concept straightaway, there didn't seem to be any time to consolidate what they had learned before moving on, they seemed to rotate everything, presumably so they didn't get bored, but personally I would have preferred them to spend ages on one thing and let it sink in. In retrospect this is how I remember my arithmetic lessons from junior school, we would be taught one thing ad nauseam. It really doesn't surprise me that employers find younger prospective employees arithmetic below par, I don't think it's their fault, but how they have been taught. In my younger son's GCSE year, I asked his maths' teacher if she could recommend a private tutor, it was at this stage I found out, that apart from the most capable, most kids were being tutored privately for this subject and his teacher confessed that she agreed with me that the approach to teaching arithmetic in junior school was unsatisfactory. Hence the number of children relying on private tuition at a later stage. I would like to point out that this wasn't a sink school and the GCSE results were and are above the national average, including those for Maths and English.

Another thing that became apparent to me when my son got his GCSE passes it included one in French, he knew less French than me, a subject I was truly abysmal at when I was at school!

POGS Wed 09-Oct-13 21:12:32


I think the OECD report is shameful, I believe I can remember discussing something similar on a thread a while ago, probably last year. All I know is we hear year on year from business our school leavers are struggling to obtain jobs because of their poor educational standards. This is obviously a generalisation but it is doing our children no good to refuse to accept the facts. Head in the sand, denial, call it what you want.

I get very confused with the whole education problem to be honest. Gove is like Marmite , some like him, some hate him. If for one moment a persons political bias was taken out of the equation what are we left with, more of the same!. That to me is a tragedy for our children, for the teaching profession and the country. sad

Jendurham Wed 09-Oct-13 21:58:18

Haven't met anyone who actually likes Gove, Pogs. Maybe I should get out more. On the other hand, if I did meet someone who liked him, I wouldn't want to meet him again.
One thing about education that I do not think anyone can refute is that class sizes have definitely been on the increase over the last few years.
If children in primary school were in smaller groups, they would have a better chance of learning to read and write and add up before they went to secondary school. English is a notoriously difficult language for foreigners to learn because of the number of exceptions in spelling and pronunciation. Why is it always assumed that the native English speaker should find it easy?
I know this report is about 16-24 year olds, but they were in larger classes than my sons were.

Deedaa Wed 09-Oct-13 22:47:35

Perhaps timing has something to do with it. Many of us went to school soon after the war, when there was a huge desire to make everything better. Once you got into the 60's there was the feeling that anyone could do anything if they wanted. Since then we seem to have sunk into apathy with low aspirations among the pupils and low expectations from the teachers.

I just get so depressed seeing the wasted potential of so many children. This is the 21st Century - they should be out there changing the world!

POGS Wed 09-Oct-13 23:05:20


As for school class sizes all I know is my Grandchild was refused admission to our first choice school because they had 30 pupils.
Is that not a general rule, or just Leicestershire? She is 7 years old by the way.