Here's to zero tolerance of illiteracy

18th December 2009 at 00:00

It was a shock to be asked to join the Literacy Commission, but it turned out to be the best reflection on my teaching and leadership role I have had.

It was a real challenge to discuss what literacy means. We soon realised there are basic literacy skills but also a wide spectrum of needs for work, life, reading or writing for pleasure and self-development.

Zero tolerance of illiteracy doesn't just mean everyone having basic skills, but extending opportunities across all abilities, ages and groups in society. The discussions reminded me why partnership with parents is a priority. I also reflected on our commitment to assist parents and carers who struggle with their own literacy skills.

At one meeting, it was fascinating to hear fellow commission member Ian Rankin explain about writing for less confident adult readers and the discussions with his editors about first person, tense, continuity of vocabulary - all issues I recognised from the children's writing in school.

I also thought of the discussion we had in school: of the emphasis on reading and less on writing and why we have started to increase the time spent teaching writing in the upper school, having found high levels of attainment in reading were not matched in writing.

Use of assessment linked with another meeting which discussed "testing" and the debate on qualifications, age-related exams and industry's need for benchmarks - all set against the educational approach of testing.

Every meeting made me think, but the recurring theme is the impact social and economic status has on children's ability to learn and be fully literate: ie. poverty is at the bottom of this, regardless of teaching style or opportunities. It reminded that I went into teaching to make a difference.

My time on the Literacy Commission has renewed my commitment to partnership working, making literacy and numeracy central and ensuring that learning is for life. It has also reinforced my belief that the child and family have to be seen as a whole, building not just the school community but also placing the school at the heart of our local community.

Our discussions also helped me to rethink my attitude to Curriculum for Excellence, which I now see as having literacy and numeracy at its core to enable all of us to achieve our potential. We need zero tolerance of illiteracy.

Gill Mackay, headteacher, Scotstoun Primary School, Glasgow.

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