Friday, May 15, 2009

Billions wasted on literacy strategy says Policy Exchange report

While some of you are pondering the expenses claims put forward by Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, School and Families, and his 'chippy defence of the SATs fiasco', you may want to know what the Policy Exchange report I posted about the other day had to say about Government policy during the past twelve years.
Its principal findings were that:
'…the current Government's attempts to raise literacy and numeracy standards over the past twelve years in primary schools have largely failed. Given the high priority correctly attached to this issue when they took power and the billions of pounds spent to boost performance, this is quite extraordinary.'
It goes on to say that '[t]he approach has failed for two key reasons. First, it disengages schools.' As most of the money spent on the literacy strategy has gone into employing local authority literacy consultants who tell schools what to do, schools are forced to follow them. To do otherwise, the report points out, poses a significant risk. 'To strike out on your own requires a headteacher of rare initiative and bravery,' it says.
Furthermore, the pursuit of this one-methodology strategy, 'combined with the Government's use of high-stakes tests', has had the effect of stifling innovation and has deterred 'many talented professionals' from entering teaching. The promotion of this single approach 'crowds out alternative programmes that may work better' and it slows innovation.
What the report refers to as the 'collective bureaucratic mindset' also makes it very difficult to change tack when an alternative approach is found to work better, as was the case with synthetic phonics. And it asks if it is wise for Government ministers and senior civil servants to commit themselves to a single model.
If the Government had put in a fraction of the money that Policy Exchange claims has been wasted into trialling different approaches and deciding, on the basis of the evidence, which among them were the most effective, perhaps we'd be a little further along the road to improving significantly the number of children leaving primary school able to cope with the demands of a secondary curriculum.


  1. I feel incredibly frustrated seeing so many pupils going through their school life having not been taught to read and write. It is ironic that school don't seem to see this as their role.

    Meanwhile money is poured into programmes like Reading Recovery which 'caters' for a few pupils, many of whom are 'discontinued' because it doesn't work.

  2. "As most of the money spent on the literacy strategy has gone into employing local authority literacy consultants who tell schools what to do, schools are forced to follow them."

    It would also seem that these local authority literacy consultants do not actually have a good understanding of what science informs us about children's development and how they best learn to read.

  3. I'm not surprised you feel frustrated, Anonymous! The Policy Exchange document makes patent that there is no clear evidence that Reading Recovery works. In fact, I intend to summarise some of the arguments made by the authors, Tom Richmond and Sam Freedman, in making that point.
    On the subject of the literacy consultants, it is they, as the Policy Exchange report hints, that have done most to stifle innovation. And for what? The much touted improvement in literacy standards over the past decade has been a 'cruel illusion'.