Opinion: To the Point - Read between the lines

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Primary school children's test scores reveal a lot about the UK, says Alan Bentley.

If your view of education is dictated by the results of tests, then this month must have been an exciting one for you. Educationalists throughout the world have been opining upon what has come out of SATs, 'Pirls' and even 'Pisa'. For me, regrettably, I have only a sense of foreboding.

The Government's interpretation of the SATs results would have you believe that all is well and that improvements were seen in 54 per cent of schools. The corollary is that notwithstanding all the money spent on improving the teaching of maths, English and science, 44 per cent of schools had worse results than last year. Four in ten pupils leave our primary schools without mastering the basics upon which their future education depends.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls), which covers 41 countries, is an interesting test. It seeks to investigate children's 'reading literacy' and associated skills at age ten. For most countries taking part this represents four years of formal education. However, with an earlier school entry age, UK children have had 20 per cent more time in education. Has this allowed them to shine? Regrettably not, it would seem.

One of the most important findings of the Pirls report was that the attitudes toward reading here are poor. Put bluntly, children in England read for pleasure less than those in most other countries.

Why should this be? I would suggest that the computer and computer games are the chief culprit. Recent research found 37% of UK ten-year-olds playing computer games for three hours or more a day - more than any other country in the study. I would also suggest that busy working parents are perhaps only too happy with this 'low demand' solution to after school hours parenting.

I find myself in total agreement with DCSF Secretary Ed Balls and Chris Keates, head of the teachers union NASUWT. Both make the point that reading skills are not the responsibility of schools alone, and parents must do more.

Alan Bentley is chairman of the Childcare Corporation.

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