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Government has not exaggerated literacy problems;Letter

Your front-page story on the literacy strategy is a classic example of being blatantly misleading in order to sensationalise.

You state that the Government has a "reading target" of 80 per cent of pupils achieving level 4. In fact, as The TES must know, the Government's widely publicised target is that 80 per cent of pupils should achieve level 4 in English by 2002. In other words, the literacy strategy covers reading and writing.

You then say that 72 per cent of last summer's 11-year-olds achieved level 4 in reading. This figure is inaccurate. You go on to say that 58 per cent are currently achieving level 4 in writing. This is also inaccurate.

It seems remarkable that The TES should choose to put on its front page a story which is so grossly flawed. The facts are as follows: i) Our literacy target is, by any standards, an ambitious one. In 1997 not a single local authority achieved the 80 per cent target. The highest was Richmond at 77 per cent. The national average was 63 per cent.

ii) The key quoted figures are inaccurate. The percentage achieving level 4 in the reading component of English is 68 per cent while for the writing component it is 54 per cent.

iii) The literacy hour and the training materials (which will be published in the spring) are based on the research which shows that the teaching of reading and writing, as any good teacher knows, needs to be integrally linked.

iv) The Government is absolutely committed to investing in raising standards of literacy and supporting teachers in doing so because it wants children to be as well prepared as possible for secondary education and the world beyond. It will spend more than pound;50 million on supporting the literacy strategy in the coming financial year in addition to the pound;23m recently allocated for school books.

v) Don Foster's comment in the story that standards are acceptable because 95 per cent of 11-year-olds are achieving level 3 at age 11 is stunningly complacent. Level 3 is the performance expected of nine-year-olds and falls far short of levels of literacy demanded at secondary level. That is why we expressed our targets in terms of level 4.

The Government has not sought to exaggerate the problems we face. Progress is indeed being made for which teachers deserve credit but there are no grounds for complacency.

The Government is determined to build on current performance to achieve world-class standards early in the next century. We know from the consultation exercise on the White Paper that parents and teachers share that ambition. It is time The TES did too.

STEPHEN BYERS

Schools standards minister Department for Education and Employment Editor: The figures used in this article were as provided by the DFEE. We now understand they represented only the results for pupils who actually sat the tests. The percentages cited by Mr Byers are for all 11-year-olds. Our story does acknowledge that the Government target is an overall one for English.

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