School Leavers (Illiteracy)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th February 1988.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South 12:00 am, 16th February 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what information he has on the illiteracy rate among school leavers.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

Evidence collected by my Department's assessment of performance unit suggests that very few 15-year-olds are unable to read or write a single word, but that some have difficulty with fairly simple reading and writing tasks. The national curriculum will help to raise standards of literacy at all levels, through the introduction of attainment targets in English. The national assessment arrangements will in due course provide information on the language capabilities of 16-year-olds.

Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply and for the improvement that we expect through the use of assessment and the national curriculum. However, what is my hon. Friend's response to the many personnel managers who are dissatisfied with the current level of literacy among school leavers?

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

We accept that there are still some inadequacies in literacy attainment, which is one of the very good reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has introduced a national curriculum to tackle immediately the problem confronting some employers.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington

Should we not have more teachers with special responsibilities for dealing with such children? That would need cash. It is clear from the written answer given by the Secretary of State on 8 February—it appears in columns 51–52 of Hansard—that he plans cuts in cash for special and secondary schools to the end of the decade and that there will be only about 1 per cent. growth in the sums available for primary schools. Given that the Secretary of State will not put the necessary money into the service, it is no wonder that some of our children leave school illiterate.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

The hon. Gentleman is clearly not aware that the grant given to the adult and literacy skills unit has been increased from £0·5 million in 1980–81 to more than £2 million in the current financial year. That is a substantial increase, which will contribute to solving literacy problems.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a direct relationship between indiscipline in schools and illiteracy? What action might she be able to take to improve discipline in our schools, particularly in the light of the recent Professional Association of Teachers survey showing that violence and indiscipline have been growing substantially?

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

Clearly, if we are to tackle the literacy problem in our schools in the long term, we must work towards breaking the cycle affecting a proportion of the weaker pupils with literacy difficulties. It is, indeed, an inadequate foundation, which catches some of the children least able to withstand indiscipline in school. Therefore, the PAT report was of great importance. We must establish discipline in the classroom so that weaker children can learn and therefore benefit from the introduction of the national curriculum.