Education – in the House of Commons on 27th February 2023.
What steps her Department is taking to improve reading standards.
Since the introduction of the phonics screening check in 2012, in which every six-year-old is tested on their ability to read simple words, the proportion reaching the expected standard has increased from 58% to 82% in 2019—before the pandemic. England has risen from joint 10th to joint eighth in the international survey of the reading ability of nine-year-olds in the Pearl study, in which we achieved our highest ever score. There is, of course, more to do to ensure that every school is teaching phonics as well as the best schools. That is why we have invested £40 million in the English Hubs programme, which spreads best practice in the teaching of reading.
I was at Park Road Community Primary School in Warrington on Friday morning, seeing phonics in action. Studies have shown that 80% of children with dyslexia do not have the condition identified before they leave school, and unfortunately too many find themselves in alternative provision because behavioural issues start to develop, stemming from a lack of understanding of a child’s learning style. Does my right hon. Friend agree that early screening and earlier intervention can level the playing field and enable them to develop skills in a way that is suited to their learning style?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Early identification of any special educational need or support requirement is critical to improving the outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, including those with dyslexia. We already have a number of measures to help teachers do that, including the phonics screening check and statutory assessments at the end of key stages 1 and 2.
Hungry children cannot learn, which affects their reading standards and their chances in life, and there is a clear link between undernourishment and lower academic attainment. The Scottish Government have committed to free school meals for all primary school children. Is it not time for the UK Government to consider doing the same thing?
Of course, it was this Government who introduced the universal infant free school meal, which means that 1.25 million children in infant schools are receiving a free school meal. We have increased from 1.7 million to 1.9 million the number of children eligible for free school meals, so thanks to this Government something like a third of children today are receiving a nutritious meal at lunchtime in our schools.