Our schools correspondent, GENE BRODIE, reviews this week’s damning report on children’s literacy and contrasts its recommendations with Croydon’s secretive library cuts
Croydon topped another league table this week, but not in a good way, with Kenley revealed as the worst area in the whole of London for children’s literacy.
In a series of shocking articles published in the Evening Standard on the poor state of literacy in the capital, Kenley and another Croydon ward, Heathfield, were among the six worst in London.
It is uncertain how the Standard arrived at its findings, not least because some Croydon schools opted out of SATs last year.
But according to the newspaper, Kenley primaries were shown to be worse at helping children to read than schools in inner London Lambeth, Tower Hamlets or Haringey.
According to the Standard‘s research, 47 per cent of 11-year-olds at Kenley primary schools achieved level 3 or below in reading at Key Stage 2. The expectation under the National Curriculum is that the average pupil student achieve level 4 at Key Stage 2.
In Heathfield, 35 per cent achieved level 3 or below.
Kenley is the ward represented on Croydon council by Steve Hollands, Janice Buttinger and the ubiquitous Steve O’Connell, the best-paid councillor in the whole of England.
In Kenley ward, the primary schools appear to be Kenley, Hayes, Roke and Wattenden. Despite being in an apparently affluent, leafy suburban area, Roke and Wattenden’s catchment is from deprived neighbourhoods, while Kenley’s in-take may suffer from some boundary hopping to other schools, with Surrey’s Whyteleafe just a few minutes away. At its last Ofsted inspection in 2009, Kenley was rated as “good”. Roke is rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted inspectors.
Significantly, there is no library service to speak of in the area. A library visit for parents with their under-11s, or for any of the classes at the schools, would require a drive by car or bus to Caterham on the Hill or Purley. And if Kenley residents were to take their children to Sanderstead Library, they would discover that there is now a children’s librarian on duty on only one Saturday every month.
Lack of reading ability is not only a real barrier to learning but to functioning effectively in everyday life. The Standard articles highlighted the need for effective teaching of reading, the need for access to books and for children to be read to from an early age.
According to the Standard, while 1 in 4 London 11-year-olds cannot read or write properly, this then sees 1 in 5 school leavers (aged 16+) unable to read confidently.
Other statistics gained by the Standard under a Freedom of Information Act request reveal the true extent of a literacy crisis in London, which prompted Michael Gove, the education secretary, to say, “Children who cannot read are condemned to spend their entire life in a prison house of ignorance.”
Gove pledged to “eliminate the evil of illiteracy”. So should we expect him to show particular interest in Croydon some time soon, then?
Other research backs up the Standard‘s findings. Last month the bosses’ organisation, the CBI, criticised levels of literacy and numeracy of school leavers as “inadequate”. A recent Oxford University study showed that reading books improves your life chances.
And the National Literacy Trust published research in February showing that children who use a library are twice as likely to be better-than-average readers.
One of the key roles of public libraries is giving people of all ages access to a wide range of reading materials and the specialist support of qualified librarians. This is an essential service, particularly for the young. There is even a legal requirement for councils to provide an “efficient and comprehensive” library service.
Yet despite all the evidence and level of concern, what is Croydon’s position?
Not content to wait until a decision on its long-delayed libraries consultation, Croydon has secretively already reduced the number of qualified librarians under the guise of an “internal reorganisation”.
Achieving a saving of £350,000 per year in staff costs, these cuts have already had a detrimental impact on the service.
The report on the fate of our much-loved and well-used libraries should be available on the council website on Monday.
Given the dreadful state of children’s literacy in their constituencies, you might expect MPs Richard Ottaway and Gavin Barwell to be demanding that Croydon Council improves and increases library provision, joining the fight to raise standards of children’s literacy while providing highly valued and much used amenities for whole communities.
For Barwell especially, that should be a straightforward piece of lobbying. Because working alongside him in the Croydon Central MP’s constituency office, receiving an estimated £26,000 in salary as a parliamentary researcher, is Sara Bashford.
That would be the same Councillor Sara Bashford who, in return for receiving a further £43,000 per year of public money as a cabinet member on Croydon Council, has seriously advocated giving out book tokens instead of providing library books on loan, who has publicly denied that there is a statutory requirement to provide libraries, and who has overseen the secretive axing of Croydon’s library staff.
Do you think Michael Gove might want to have a word?
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- Gavin Barwell MP, political websites, funding and our apology (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Three in 10 UK children ‘own no books’ (guardian.co.uk)