Scottish pdf

4th December 2009 at 00:00

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A Vision for Scotland

The Report and Final Recommendations of the

Literacy Commission

December 2009

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Preface

It was a privilege to be asked to Chair the Literacy Commission and, along

with my colleagues, to produce a report and series of recommendations that

we believe can help to address the low levels of avoidable illiteracy that still

exist in Scotland today.

From the outset, the Commission has operated on an independent and

impartial basis using its own, limited resources. The findings that we have

produced are not intended to support the aims and objectives of any individual

political party or organisation and, it is with this in mind, that we offer our

report to Scottish society as a whole.

Literacy is a massive topic that covers not just the traditional skills of reading

and writing but other literacy skill sets, such as emotional and financial

literacy. Poor literacy affects not just school children; it also affects adults and

those with learning difficulties. The Commission considered these different

aspects and decided from the outset to focus its work on those children who

have the capacity to learn and develop their literacy skills but who are

currently failing to do so.

For the past 18 months, the Commission has reviewed evidence from a

variety of individuals and organisations with first hand experience of dealing

with the problem of poor literacy, and considered very closely the factors that

can contribute to this. Our report sets out eleven clear recommendations that

we believe can address the problem of poor basic literacy and, if adopted by

Scottish society, will place us in the enviable position of being the developed

world's first fully literate nation.

The membership of the Commission was drawn from a cross-section of

Scottish society and includes respected figures from the worlds of academe,

business, politics, culture and education. (For more information on members

of the Commission, please see the end of the Report.) It is sufficient here to

say that the insights, experiences and thought-provoking debate that this mix

of people produced greatly enhanced the Commission's work and I am very

grateful for the time and effort each of my Commission colleagues has

devoted to this project.

Judith Gillespie

Convener

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Introduction: The Vision - Zero Tolerance of Illiteracy

The introduction sets out the vision for the report - zero-tolerance of illiteracy -

and sets out the problems currently facing Scotland.

This report sets out a vision which would give Scotland a position of world

leadership: zero tolerance of illiteracy. For years in Scotland, as in other

nations across the world, we have tolerated the intolerable. We have

accepted a situation in which thousands of our young people leave school

every year with correctable problems that leave them functionally illiterate -

that is, without the basic literacy skills to function in a modern society.

The Commission was set up in response to concerns about the persistence of

very low levels of literacy among a significant minority of Scottish school

leavers. From the outset the Commission acknowledged that there is a very

small number of children for whom basic literacy is an unachievable objective

because of physiological factors or severe learning difficulties. The focus of

this report is not on these problems, important as they are, but on the issue of

low achievement among those youngsters at school for whom there is no

apparent barrier to acquiring adequate literacy skills.

The consequence of this failure is shown in the number of adults in Scotland

without such skills. The available evidence suggests the total may be

approaching a million. Not only does this represent a vast economic cost to

our society, it also constitutes an unacceptable social cost in terms of quality

of life and well-being, the more so as the steps that are required to ensure

that every young person becomes literate prior to leaving school are already

established in research and practice. But, the vision cannot be fulfilled

nationally unless there is total commitment to a zero tolerance policy and the

actions necessary to achieve this.

However, this is only the starting point because, although acquisition of the

basic skills of literacy is absolutely essential, it is not a sufficient definition of a

fully literate nation.

The Scope of the Problem

This section highlights the problems currently faced in the UK through the use

of statistical evidence and compares this with evidence from abroad.

UK Data

There is no nationalofficial measure of how many children are going through

the school system without acquiring basic literacy skills but, using what

information is available, a good estimate would be that in Scotland 18.5%

leave primary school without being functionally literate - some 13,000

youngsters a year at current population levels. However, there is

considerable local variation with a range of between 10% and 26% correlating

to different levels of socio-economic disadvantage.

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Primary and early secondary national test scores are another source of

evidence and, whilst these are not immune to question, when aggregated to

local authority level, some significance can be attached to them. In relation to

both reading and writing, the proportion of children failing to achieve the

expected standards, as defined in the 5 - 14 programme, varies enormously.

For example, by the age of 14, the percentage of children not achieving level

E in reading in 2008 exceeded 20% in two authorities, ranged between 10%

and 19% in six others, and was reported as 0% in 14 authorities, although it

is not clear what this "0%" means. Figures relating to writing were less

satisfactory. Only in 3 areas were all children said to have achieved the

expected standard while, in 2 areas, half the children did not and, in a further

6, at least 30% fell below the expected level.

Levels of success in national tests broadly follow socio-economic factors with

poorer areas faring badly, although a small number of partial exceptions is

evident. However, many youngsters do not overcome their lack of literacy

skill in secondary school and, taking the more objective SQA performance of

general educational success as an indicator of literacy standards, then

exceptions disappear and achievement follows social circumstances to an

alarming degree.

There are no official national statistics on literacy levels for secondary school

leavers, and those that exist are hard to interpret, but an indication of the

scale and impact of the problem across the United Kingdom can be found in

statistics on adult literacy presented by the National Literacy Trust1. In

England, the 2003 "Skills for Life" survey found that 5.2 million adults (or 16%

of the 16-65 population) had literacy levels at or below `Entry Level 3', the

standard expected of an 11 year old child. The figure for Wales was higher at

25%. No comparable figures are given for Scotland; however a 2001 report

by the Scottish Executive indicated that 23% of the adult population may have

low literacy and numeracy skills.

International Comparisons

The Commission was interested to know how reading standards in Scotland

compare with other countries but found this surprisingly difficult to establish.

There is no answer that can be regarded as truly authoritative.

There are currently two major international surveys that cover standards in

literacy - Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Both have the

merit of being repeated at regular intervals but the findings are open to

question, with the tests more attuned to the cultures of some countries than

others. However, these international comparisons do give valuable

information and at least an indication of standards of performance.

Whilst Scotland did well in both the 2000 and 2003 PISA studies, Scottish

performance in the 2006 study was less encouraging and was not much

above the average (499 points against an average of 492). Five countries

(Canada, Finland, Ireland, Korea and New Zealand) did better and a further

14 (including England) performed at much the same level.

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The PIRLS study showed a similar decline; in 2006 Scotland was ranked 26th

out of 45, compared with 14th in the previous study. The international

evidence, despite problems of interpretation arising from the definition of

literacy and the attainment measures used, does not support the idea that

Scotland is a world leader. Furthermore, there is a worrying suggestion in

both PISA and PIRLS that other countries may be progressing faster than

Scotland.

The Impact of Poor Literacy

This section sets out the impact of poor literacy on individuals and society,

drawing upon the findings of a CBI report into the impact of low readingwriting

skills.

Poor literacy levels matter because they have an impact both on individuals

and on society. A very powerful report by the National Literacy Trust

(September 2008), which pulls together existing research about the

relationship between literacy and five areas of life: economic status,

aspirations, family life, health and civiccultural engagement, highlights not

just the impact of socio-economic factors on low literacy levels but also how

those low literacy levels, in turn, affect life chances and further exclude people

from participating in society2.

The scope and seriousness of these problems is indicated further by figures

from the Office of National Statistics which show that in the 50-65 age group,

31% of males and 40% of females have a literacy standard normally achieved

by the end of early primary years. Moreover, a Scottish Executive report in

2001 found that some 800,000 adults, of whom 500,000 were in work, had

significant literacy problems, whilst a subsequent report in 20083 revealed that

39% of men and 36% of women of working age had literacy abilities at a level

that was likely to impact on their employment and life chances.

The view from employers is shown in a CBI survey on the impact of

illiteracypoor readingwriting skills in the work place4. This gave evidence

(see below) that the major concern about literacy, shared by 72% of

respondents, was the quality of written English - constructing properly spelt

sentences with accurate grammar. Moreover, this concern applied to

graduates as well as to school leavers.

Leading areas of concern.

Area of concern % of respondents

Constructing properly spelt,

grammatically correct writing

72

More complex literacy tasks 46

Understanding oral communication

and articulating a clear response

39

Reading and understanding basic

texts

32

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It is clear that many of the concerns identified relate to higher levels of skill

than basic decoding. This accords with the Commission's opinion that literacy

is a continuum with significant points relating to key skill levels at different

stages along it. This view does not minimise the importance of ensuring that

all children attain basic literacy skills as timeously as possible, but it does

mean that they should not be left at this level. It is a purpose of education to

move youngsters as far along the continuum as possible.

Defining Basic Literacy

This section defines a level of `basic literacy' for the purposes of the report,

bearing in mind that there is no official definition of literacy and recognising

that the simple process of decoding is insufficient by itself.

The Commission spent some time discussing what constituted a basic level of

literacy and what this enabled someone to do. Although the Scottish

Government is keen to emphasise that literacy is central to Curriculum for

Excellence (CfE) and that every teacher is to become a teacher of literacy,

there is no official definition. In 2008, in answer to a Parliamentary Question,

the Minister for Schools and Skills confirmed that "The Scottish Government

does not have a definition of functional literacy".

In fact, literacy is a very complex concept, involving, at a more advanced

level, a range of higher order skills such as critical thinking, creative writing,

appraising style or detecting bias, and this complex view - that literacy is a

continuum, covering advanced skills as well as basic - is the one laid out in

the CfE Experiences and Outcomes. At its most basic level, literacy crucially

involves competence in readingdecoding (defined as the process of deriving

meaning from systematised graphic shapes) and in writing. The realisation

that text conveys meaning is itself an important skill and one that only has to

be learnt once. However, basic skills of decoding and writing are, on their

own, not sufficient to enable someone to function in adult society and the

Commission felt that it was this ability (to function in an adult society) that

should be used to define "basic literacy". In West Dunbartonshire, the age

standard identified as delivering this was 9 years 6 months which is illustrated

in the reading example below.

Text of Level 4 reading passage

Jan buckled on her diving belt of metal weights and dropped from the launch.

Skipper Kells supervised her air-hose to prevent tangling. Leo, following the

bubbles, guided the dinghy above the diver as she searched the mysterious

underwater world.

Jan surfaced frequently, clutching crayfish. The required number of

specimens was almost obtained when the grey nurse shark advanced directly

towards her. Jan retreated cautiously without signalling for assistance. The

creature brushed by, ignoring her, as baby sharks emerged from some rocky

grooves. Their welfare was more important to the shark than the diver's now

motionless figure. 5

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Anyone mastering this stage should be able to read the passage aloud,

following its meaning with few errors in accuracy. It equates to a midpoint

between levels C and D in the 5-14 programme and the beginning of stage 2

in Curriculum for Excellence. It provides an adequate level of literacy to start

engaging with the secondary school curriculum, complete a basic form, read a

tabloid newspaper and function at a basic level in society; it is an important

staging post on the literacy continuum. However, it would not allow a

youngster to complete the secondary curriculum or function at a higher level

in society and should not be regarded as the end point. (For comparable

examples of writing, see footnote 6.)

Social and Economic Disadvantage

These paragraphs define socio-economic disadvantage as the most important

cause of correctable poor literacy and describes the negative effects that this

has on the life chances and achievement of children.

In order to find an appropriate solution to the problem of poor literacy levels, it

is necessary to look at causes. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that,

whilst other factors have a modest impact, the most important cause of

correctable poor literacy is socio-economic disadvantage. Figures given

earlier in the report show that, whether the measure used is National Test

scores or the more objective SQA results, children in less affluent areas tend

to be less successful. While individuals may defy this trend, no school in a

deprived neighbourhood is able to record a similar level of success to that

achieved by almost all schools in the most affluent areas. It is evident that

socio-economic circumstances continue to outweigh other factors such as

quality of teaching, a point made forcibly by the OECD 2007 report Quality

and Equity of Schooling in Scotland - "Not all schools work equally well in

Scotland. But the gaps between them are far less important than differences

between students. In Scotland, who you are is far more important than what

school you attend".

Material disadvantage can have a simple and direct effect on educational

opportunity. Housing is more likely to be crowded with no quiet place for

study. Families are often unable to afford the trips and other experiences that

enrich the developing mind. Lack of money can be an important factor in

deciding whether a child has to leave school at 16 or is able to continue

further. However, less obvious effects of socio-economic circumstances are

even more influential and, as is now widely recognised, cumulative. The

same groups suffer from poorer health, less adequate housing, exposure to

crime and violence and lower chances of educational success. These

disadvantages are not merely correlated, they are causally related. The Chief

Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr. Harry Burns, has recently presented

research which offers persuasive arguments that a child's whole

circumstances affect life-chances in a way that is generally decisive.

Medical evidence suggests that disadvantage has a physiological impact on

the human body that not only makes children more liable to disease and early

death but also inhibits their brain development and makes them less able to

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learn. It is widely recognised that children who experience chaotic family

circumstances or who do not receive the appropriate responses to cries of

discomfort or smiles of happiness experience problems in their development.

If these are not redressed early, they may have lasting consequences

because the first few years of a child's life are when many key stages in brain

development happen. Such children are not only likely to make a poor start in

education but also rapidly fall further behind. Moreover, the disadvantage is

generally long-lasting, impairing their capacity to make progress at later

stages.

Disadvantage in this extreme form is illustrated by evidence from Glasgow. In

one P67 class, 21 out of 24 children had faced severe problems in their lives

including drugalcohol abuse by a parent, family death and violence. More

generally, some children arrive at nursery at the age of three or even four with

barely any language and poorly developed social and motor skills. It is selfevident

that such children lack the prior experiences that would equip them to

learn.

A particularly vulnerable group are children looked after by local authorities,

both in children's homes and in their own homes. The overall number has

doubled in most local authorities over the past four years, largely because of

social problems such as parental drugalcohol abuse and domestic violence.

Often, the focus on education takes second place to their more immediate

social and behavioural needs. Many, through no fault of their own, have

become disengaged from mainstream schooling, suffer from complex needs

and are well known to a variety of different support services, such as social

work.

However, the effects of disadvantage are more widespread than even these

examples might suggest. The statistical evidence cited earlier indicates

clearly that, even if children have supportive and loving families, socioeconomic

disadvantage will severely reduce their likelihood of success.

The reasons for this have received less attention than they merit. However, it

seems clear that the awareness of living at a low point in a social hierarchy is

itself very damaging. It is liable to reduce self-esteem, morale and motivation.

Meanwhile, being excluded from the culture and discourse of more privileged

groups may reduce competence in activities that are socially and

educationally valued. There is again medical evidence that such exclusion

increases stress and precipitates a number of potentially damaging

physiological responses.

Furthermore, so pervasive is the effect of disadvantage that it tends to

subsume other factors. In recent years girls have out-performed boys in most

aspects of school work (although not in later success in life). Theories have

been developed indicating that sedentary literacy-based activities better suit

girls' preferred styles of learning. Although there is truth in such views, it is

even more significant that changes in society have left traditional male manual

employment highly marginalised. The result is a merging of gender-related

factors with the more powerful issue of disadvantage. Such a view is

supported by a variety of evidence, including from the Clackmannanshire

project (see Page 13 et seq), that gender differences can be substantially

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reduced or even eliminated by well-conceived and systematic policies

combined with sound teaching.

Experiences of the Past

This section points out that there has been no `golden age' of literacy and to

exemplify this draws on the school experiences of adults presently engaged in

adult literacy schemes.

There is no evidence to suggest that there has ever been some literacy

"golden age" and figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal higher

levels of poor literacy among the 50-65 age group than the 16-24 age group.

The Commission itself considered evidence from adults who were

participating in adult literacy and numeracy schemes. Personal reflections by

this group identified the following as impediments to learning:-

?Missing school - often because of problems at home - resulted in learning

gaps that were hard to make up. Youngsters then lost confidence in their

ability to learn.

?Learning difficulties that were not identified early enough

?A lack of appropriate and sustained help as and when it was needed

?Their own behaviour e.g. being easily distracted andor truanting

?Parents who did not push them to learnstay on task

?A learning-support curriculum that did not match the classroom curriculum

?Confidence undermined by being removed from the class (and separated

from friends) for learning-support.

It is noteworthy that this group identified personal failure - either their own or

others in terms of the lack of support they received - as the cause of their

problem and appeared to be largely unaware of systemic problems arising

from their social and economic circumstances.

English as an Additional Language (EAL)

This section does not claim EAL to be a factor in poor literacy but identifies

findings from a report on EAL teaching that identified the issues associated

with helping children with poorly-developed English language skills and the

importance of wider community support.

The Commission took time to consider English as an Additional Language

(EAL). It is not itself a factor in poor literacy - indeed a number of Glasgow

schools with a high percentage of asylum seeker or recently arrived children

for whom English is not their first language are out-performing other local

schools. However, a report on EAL teaching provided some very instructive

insight into both the problems of helping youngsters with poorly-developed

English language skills and the importance of community support.

It is clear that the concept of decoding is a bit like riding a bike - once a

youngster has learnt that reading a written script is possible, this awareness

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can be transferred from language to language even when the "graphic

shapes" used are quite different e.g. from Chinese to English.

It is necessary for someone to have language to think in before they can read.

In the EAL setting this means that it is more important for parents to develop a

child's use of their own language than teach himher English, if the parents'

own English language is limited. Moreover, there is a need to overcome

potential difficulties arising from a mismatch between the cultures of the

learners (whether EAL or those from socio-economically disadvantaged

areas) and the education they receive.

The Role of Testing

This section identifies the Commission's view on testing as having two

purposes; to certify student progress and to identify struggling schoolchildren.

The Commission considered the current focus on testing for literacy and a

proposal within Curriculum for Excellence that all youngsters should acquire a

formal qualification, establishing their literacy level, in their third year of

secondary school. For its part, the Commission recognised the value and use

of testing and saw it as having two particular purposes - certification and

diagnosis. Testing highlights the importance of the area to be tested - in this

case, literacy. It gives evidence of standards to employers and those in more

advanced levels of education. It provides baseline data which are useful for

establishing what is happening in Scotland and for showing how achievement

has changed over time. It is also important as a means of holding those

responsible for education to account for what they deliver.

However, the Commission sees that a central purpose of testing is to provide

diagnostic information about students who are struggling, and for working out

what steps should be taken to help them progress. The methodology and

timing of such tests are crucial for identifying the scale of literacy difficulties.

Such tests do not have to be applied to all youngsters but can be used in an

increasingly focused way to help those who have been identified as having

problems.

Improving Literacy - the Evidence

i) Addressing the Consequences of Social and Economic Disadvantage

At this point, the report identifies the need to begin addressing socioeconomic

disadvantage from an early-age and also draws on evidence from

local government in Italy.

The medical evidence on the impact of very early experience on brain

development and the consequences of disadvantage would indicate that

redress has to begin from birth or, indeed, before. The quality of antenatal

care and the behaviour of women during pregnancy have far-reaching

consequences for children but do not fall within the Commission's remit, which

was concerned with the years after birth. However, this should in no way

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detract from the considerable importance of providing quality services in the

earliest years.

In terms of the very young, the best developed services are to be found in

northern Italy, particularly in those commune7 that have been influenced by

the pioneering work in Reggio Emilia over a period of more than forty years.

In San Miniato, for example, over 40% of very young children between birth

and the age of three receive one of a variety of education and care services,

such as attending a nido or nursery for the very young, run by the commune.

A common feature of these services is direct support to parents (including

many fathers) to help them feel more confident and competent in supporting

their children. San Miniato's services, all paid for through local taxes with

means-tested contributions from parents, express the notion of support by the

whole community for families in the task of raising children.

Thus, building family capacity has to be a central feature of any systematic

attempt to redress the cultural disadvantage that some young children

otherwise encounter from the outset of formal education. Children coming

from homes where conversation centres on ideas and where adults

demonstrate by their habits that literacy is valued, arrive at school equipped to

benefit from what teachers have to offer. It is as if they already have the

outline of a mental jigsaw in place. When the teacher offers a new piece, they

can see where it fits; it becomes meaningful and memorable. Unless steps

are taken to counteract cultural disadvantage, many other children,

particularly those who are looked after by local authorities, will never build

their mental jigsaws. New learning will have nowhere to fit in and will be

quickly forgotten.

In the UK, increasing understanding of the importance of the early years

(together with a desire to give mothers easier access to the labour market)

has led to a huge expansion in services for pre-school children. In the late

1990s public money was invested on a massive scale in a variety of public

and private nursery provision.

However, these new services were devoted almost entirely to the 3-5 agegroup

and provision for younger children was very modest. But, by the age of

three the most prolific stage of brain development has been completed and a

child's environment in terms of the ethos of the family and local community

will already have had a significant and lasting effect.

This is not an argument to do nothing because a child's fate is determined by

the age of three. Services for the young that directly enrich the experience of

children, whilst not a substitute for what the parents can offer, can go a

considerable way towards alleviating disadvantage. So, mindful of the

evidence on poverty, including much from Glasgow, and of the importance of

building support within the child's home and community, the Commission was

very interested to learn of the success of nurture groups, an early years'

programme that takes youngsters from the most problematic backgrounds

and places them in small groups with a specially trained teacher and support

staff. The emphasis is on providing care for the children, and on developing

their social and emotional skills. The groups work closely with the parents to

help them understand how they in turn might better support their children's

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development. A recent research evaluation of the nurture groups8 found not

only that they were successful in their original purpose, but that they have

also raised the attainment levels of the children involved.

In the very early years, formal education is of no relevance. The important

action is to build the preconditions for later learning. Good services for the

youngest age group bring together health, care and education in a seamless

way. Effective support for potentially disadvantaged children requires a

continuity that is currently not offered and a focus on the whole family and the

whole process of development. In this way a basis is laid for success in later

learning including acquisition of the fundamental learning skill of literacy.

In terms of looked-after children, there are examples of successful practice

across the country. For example, in West Lothian, a multi-agency approach

has helped to raise achievement by focusing on the educational, social and

health needs of the children. For older children, Glasgow's Enhanced

Vocational Inclusion Programme (EVIP) has provided looked-after children

with an alternative to mainstream schooling. The programme is designed to

allow the children and young people the chance to study a vocational

qualification while at the same time developing core life skills.

ii) Successful Action - Evidence from School Projects

This section highlights four features of successful literacy schemes adopted

after 1997 and also describes further evidence from adult learners.

Within the school context, there is a lot of evidence on how to overcome

literacy problems through focused teaching. From its inception, the

Commission has attracted a lot of information from individuals and

groupsorganisations who have developed successful schemes for teaching

literacy. Indeed, in 1997 Scotland itself was as close to a complete

commitment to literacy-for-all as it has ever been. The Early Years' Initiative

was a national policy that both required and allowed the 32 authorities to

develop their own schemes. However, although the scheme was generously

funded by central government, only some of the projects were really

successful, demonstrating that whilst having the necessary resources for any

programme is important, resources alone are not a sufficient guarantee of

success. In order to understand how to overcome the problem of poor

literacy, it is helpful to look more closely at the key features in those

programmes that peer-reviewed research has shown did succeed.

1) National Leadership

Successive Governments have made literacy a priority and provided funding

but there has been a lack of consistency and constancy. To be successful, a

zero-tolerance literacy policy has to be adopted for the long term. However,

whilst leadership from the top is important,this has to be balanced by the

essential ingredients of local ownership, differentiation and commitment.

There needs to be commitment at every level from First Minister, through

Council leaders, educational directorate, head teachers and all parties

including teachers, volunteers, parents and pupils. The West Dunbartonshire

project, which has lasted 12 years to date, was supported by such

commitment so that it survived several changes of Director of Education,

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three changes of the education officer responsible for the project, three

changes of project leader, 90% change of staff in the specialist early

intervention team and several changes of Council Leader, accompanied at

times by changes in the political balance of power in the Council.

2) Starting Early with Formal Literacy

In order to address the problems that youngsters bring to school, whether in

terms of social disadvantage or learning difficulties, it is necessary to start

literacy programmes from a very early age. This was true of successful Early

Years' Initiative projects. In Clackmannanshire, the Synthetic Phonics

experiment began with a cohort of children at the P1 level and followed them

through the course of their primary education. In West Dunbartonshire,

children were targeted from pre-school age and support has continued into

the secondary stage. A recently completed pilot writing project in North

Lanarkshire similarly focused on children in the early years of primary school.

In line with comments from some adult returners, that they had addressed

their own literacy problems when faced with helping their children, the

Commission noted the impact (sometimes unexpected) that the literacy

initiatives had on the parents of children involved. For example, there were

cases in West Dunbartonshire where parents at parents' evenings confided to

teachers that they had reading difficulties. Education officials in North

Lanarkshire also reported similar situations, and in both cases the authorities

in question were able to provide advice and direct parents to support

structures. Overcoming poor literacy cannot be left solely to schools.

Success also depends on support and commitment from the home and

community. Picking up on this aspect, a new and as yet unreviewed project in

Glasgow places an emphasis on literacy across generations in a continuum

from early-years to the workplace and the wider community.

3) Teaching Approaches - Careful Monitoring and Continuous

Professional Development (CPD)

All successful schemes have relied heavily on synthetic phonics but have

used a variety of approaches to ensure that the necessary measures of

literacy were available at the right time for children experiencing difficulties.

The requirement to switch approaches as appropriate means it is necessary

and important to use diagnostic tests to identify the exact position of every

child vulnerable to reading failure, and to monitor the progress of all children.

It also means that good CPD is an essential element of any successful

programme, as it develops teachers' skills, puts the teacher in charge and so

helps build the necessary commitment at school level. If a project is to

maximise its potential, there needs to be evidence of professional buy-in for

its aims and objectives at the local level. While government may choose to

direct funding to advance a particular vision or strategy, successful projects

tend to be those that have been formulated at a local level, giving teachers

and education officials maximum input into designing and implementing a

project. If teachers are made to feel as though they are supporting a remote

reform agenda, then these projects are the most likely to fail.

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4) Intervention Strategies

For some youngsters good teaching is not enough. Intensive support is

necessary if they are to make progress, and there are a number of readingrecovery

support schemes that have been developed. However, some of

these are dedicated programmes which take the child out of school, often

isolate the pupil from hisher peers and are expensive. It is more inclusive

and less expensive to run in-school schemes. West Dunbartonshire's project

aimed to ensure that no child was left behind, using initiatives such as

intensive daily one-to-one work with children and the "Toe By Toe"

programme9 which intervened with children who were clearly still struggling

further up primary school. The Clackmannanshire project similarly provided

rigorous pupil monitoring and intervention where required through catch-up

groups and homework clubs.

What Needs to be Done - the Views of Adult Learners

The adult returners who identified impediments to their learning were also

quite clear about what they felt would have made a difference. It was

noteworthy that the steps that they identified as being desirablenecessary

matched very closely the steps taken in the school projects that were studied:-

?Better identification of learning difficulties

?Early intervention so that youngsters do not fall behind

?Necessary help in terms of more time for explanation, more reinforcing of

explanations and more effort by the teacher to ensure that real

understanding has taken place

?One-to one help when necessary

?Involving parents and supporting them (A number of the adults reported

that they had got involved in literacy programmes to help their own

children's learning and that their classes had then helped them understand

their children's difficulties.)

?More pressure on youngsters to attend school and to keep on task -

youngsters should not be just left to get on with things.

?Motivation - youngsters should be helped to understand why reading

matters and their interest encouraged by good reading material at the

appropriate level.

?The learning support curriculum should match the regular curriculum so

that youngsters can keep in step with their peers.

Moving Beyond Basic Literacy

In this section, the report highlights the need to move children beyond a basic

level of literacy in order that they can fully engage with modern society and the

workplace.

As indicated earlier, the Commission agreed from the outset that literacy is a

continuum that extends beyond basic literacy skills. Different levels of literacy

are needed; for example, for undertaking a modern apprenticeship, for most

jobs (SCQF level 5) and for Further and Higher Education. In this age of

information overload via the Internet, it is important that all youngsters are

equipped with analytical skills so that they can understand not just the

15

information that is provided but also its validity. Did the author of the

information have a vested interest in persuading the reader of a particular

version of the truth? Literacy is also not the sole responsibility of local

authorities and schools. Literacy should go beyond the remit of formal

education and become embedded across society in order to ensure

continuous development. Partnership working, involving the public, private

and voluntary sectors, is key if poor literacy across society is to be

challenged.

In looking at how youngsters can be helped to move beyond basic literacy,

the Commission began by considering the significant number of young people

who acquire basic skills of decoding but do not go on to become independent

readers. Indeed, in some cases, skills are gradually lost and youngsters

become, at best, reluctant and marginally competent readers. Why do some

children not progress beyond early literacy skills and what can be done to

help them?

On a totally practical level, it is important to ensure that the reading material

offered to reluctant readers matches their interests and maturity. On this

score, Project X, which has just been launched in England, provides an

interesting example. It uses the "playstation approach" to attract boys in

particular to reading. A recent parent-led research project in Aberdeen

identified the Guinness Book of Records and comics as items that kept

children reading. Schools must not be prescriptive in what constitutes

suitable reading material and should accept what interests the child whilst

trying to move on to more ambitious material.

However, one of the most significant facts to emerge from the evaluation of

the Clackmannanshire literacy project related to a loss of impetus somewhere

around the middle of primary schooling. Whereas in P1-3 almost all of the

traditional differences in attainment between girls and boys and between

schools with socially different catchment area disappeared, by P7 socioeconomic

disadvantage had begun to reassert itself, although overall

standards remained higher and gender differences lower than before.

It is reasonable to conclude that, as the element of comprehension becomes

more significant than the mechanical skill of decoding, cultural and

environmental factors begin to impede the progress of some learners,

especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. If these children are to

build on their early success in the acquisition of basic literacy skills, these

factors must be tackled.

Returning to the correlation of educational failure and socio-economic

disadvantage, there is no instance in Scotland of a school serving a poor

neighbourhood and achieving results comparable to those of schools in the

most affluent areas. Moreover, as has already been indicated, a child's early

experience of life largely determines the speed and accuracy with which they

form fundamental concepts. If the framework is well-developed, the child is

better able to integrate into it the new information and ideas that the school

presents. Early experience relevant to the processes of school learning

constitutes an overwhelming advantage. This is why the Commission places

such emphasis on supporting parents and redressing the effects of social and

16

economic disadvantage at an early stage. But there is also a need for

schools to increase their efforts to enrich the experience of children from

disadvantaged backgrounds and for government to adopt a similar approach

to the problem of stalled or regressing literacy as was adopted for early

stages around ten years ago.

Finally, turning to the issue of how to develop higher literacy skills, it is

important to define what those skills are. The CfE Experiences and

Outcomes take us part of the way. Skills, such as organising information,

distinguishing fact from opinion and summarising, are mentioned and could

contribute to an approach to higher literacy based on progression in skills.

Communicating at an advanced level through the written word is heavily

dependent on skills such as these. However, their use is by no means

confined to traditional printed media. At this level, the development of

literacy-related skills merges into a more general form of intellectual

development.

If young people are to develop these higher-order intellectual skills, it is crucial

that they are explicitly taught. Young people should be made aware at the

outset what skills they are going to acquire and why they are important. At

the conclusion of any unit of work, they should be reminded of what they have

learned and be made aware of its application. This element of metacognition

is a crucial part of sound learning at any level. It is no less significant when

dealing with learning at an advanced level.

It is important that the skill is seen as being of widespread application. The

ability to use knowledge, understanding and skills in areas other than the one

in which they were acquired is essential. In some highly specialised areas of

learning, skills may be needed for very specific purposes and have few

applications in other contexts. The higher-order skills, like analysis and

critical thinking, which are associated with advanced literacy, are not like this;

they have everyday significance in much the same way as basic decoding.

They are the transferable skills of the 21stcentury.

It may seem a long journey from the earliest stages of familiarity with letters to

the application of critical understanding at advanced levels but, as has been

stated, all literacy-related skills are part of a continuum. Schools have the

task of trying to ensure that every young person progresses as far along it as

possible. An effective national strategy for literacy must take this as its

objective.

Recommendations

If the problems of poor basic literacy are to be addressed, there has to be a

recognition that socio-economic issues are the main underlying cause and

there need to be programmes that focus on addressing these problems. As

the report by the National Literacy Trust makes clear, only in this way will it be

possible to create a virtuous upward spiral that enables everyone to

participate in the literate society and lifts people out of disadvantage. This

leads us to make the following clear recommendations.

17

The Commitment

1. As a nation, Scotland should make a formal commitment to zero

tolerance of illiteracy.

2. There should be a sustained policy commitment from all levels of

government and educational management to address the issue of

improving standards of literacy at all levels.

3. A focus for local authorities should be to ensure that best practice is

shared in order to develop consistent, effective, multi-agency strategies

that meet the emotional as well as literacy needs of the children in their

care.

4. The allocation of education resources should reflect the priority of

improving literacy levels.

Pre-requisites for Learning

5. There should be a focus on early years to address the negative effects of

socio-economic disadvantage on learning. This should include:-

a. Pilot schemes in a number of local authorities serving areas of

socio-economic disadvantage to provide continuous and

systematic support for families with children in the birth-to-three

age group

b. Local authorities, as corporate parents, taking responsibility for a

more holistic approach to ensure that the very specific

educational, behavioural and social needs of looked-after children

are properly addressed

c. Systematic support for parents in assisting their children's early

learning

d. Sustained efforts by nurseries and schools to enrich the life

experience of children from disadvantaged circumstances

e. Use of nurture groups in primary schools in areas of disadvantage

f. Professional development to support these initiatives including the

necessary changes to Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and

subsequent CPD

Acquiring Basic Skills

6. Within the context of an overall national strategy, each local authority

and every school should develop local literacy plans suited to their

individual circumstances. These plans should involve:-

a. Systematic and supportive monitoring of outcomes both by HMIe

and by local authorities

b. Modification of policy and practice in the light of the findings

c. A commitment to effective and appropriate action to support every

individual child at every stage of learning.

7. Successful schemes should involve the following elements:-

a. Commencement at an early age

b. Reliance on a highly structured phonics programme (normally

involving synthetic phonics) as the approach to getting the great

majority of children decoding successfully

18

c. Use of a range of other approaches to tackle cases of difficulty up

to and including intensive individual tuition for children who

continue to experience significant reading problems

d. Programmes of high quality professional development, regularly

updated and consistently available.

Beyond Basic Skills

8. A national strategy should set priorities for assisting children to move

beyond basic literacy by improving standards of comprehension and

higher-order literacy skills. This strategy should be informed by research

and by good practice.

9. Within the national strategy each local authority should develop a local

scheme in the same way as was done after 1997 in relation to basic

literacy.

10. Progress of local schemes should be carefully monitored and good

practice shared in a systematic process of continuous improvement and

professional development.

11. Raising levels of higher-order literacy-related skills should be a priority

objective within the Curriculum for Excellence development programme.

19

Commission Membership

Judith Gillespie (Chair)

Judith Gillespie first became actively involved in Scottish Education during the

teachers' strike in 1985. Since then, she has been constantly involved both at

national and local authority level. In 1989 she became a Director of the Scottish

Parent Teacher Council, moving on to become its Convener and then Development

Manager, a post she currently holds.

Judith was a Director of Moray House at the time of its merger with Edinburgh

University and, from 2001 to June 2009, on the Board of the Scottish Qualifications

Authority. She has served on numerous Government committees, including the

Higher Still Development Group and the Curriculum Review Group. As a

spokesperson for parents, Judith has frequently contributed to radio and television

programmes, written letters and articles for the press and contributed to a number of

educational publications.

Keir Bloomer

Keir Bloomer is an independent education consultant. He is also Chair of the

Tapestry Partnership, Vice-convenor of Children in Scotland and Vice-Chair of the

Court of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

Between 2000 and 2007, he served as Chief Executive of Clackmannanshire Council

and prior to this, served as the Director of Education and Community Services for the

authority.

He was a member of the review group which wrote "A Curriculum for Excellence",

Scotland's national curriculum policy statement, and at various times during his

career has served as the Vice-Chair of Learning and Teaching Scotland, Depute

General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland and a member of the

General Teaching Council.

He is well-known in Scotland as a speaker and writer on a wide variety of educational

topics.

Geraldine Gammell

Geraldine Gammell is the Director of the Prince's Trust in Scotland, the youth charity

which helps young people get their lives on track and move into education,

employment and training.

She is a Chartered Accountant by trade and an English Literature graduate from

Glasgow University.

John Loughton

Born in Edinburgh, John is the youngest member of the Commission and studied at

the University of Stirling. A committed champion for young people's rights, John has

been extremely active at a local, national and international level to safeguard and

ensure young people's voices and ideas are central to the political process as well as

across society. At 19, John was elected as the chairman of the Scottish Youth

Parliament and during this time was also appointed as Vice Convener of the Scottish

Parliament's Cross Party Group on Children and Young People, a Board Director for

20

YouthLink Scotland, the national youth work agency, and represented young people

across the United Kingdom at a number of international platforms such as the UK

European Presidency Summit.

In January 2008, John appeared on and won the reality TV show Big Brother:

Celebrity Hijack where he aimed to spread a positive message of young people and

promoted a number of important campaigns affecting young people.

John also served as a member of the Commission on Scottish Devolution (Calman

Commission) and currently works as a Policy Manager and lobbyist for a national

voluntary organisation.

Donald MacKay

Donald MacKay is the Director of Education and Communities with Midlothian

Council.

His teaching career began in 1971 and following spells as an Assistant Headteacher

and Headteacher became Curriculum Development Officer for Fife Council. Donald's

subsequent career accomplishments as an adviser in Primary Education and

Assistant Director of Education with Lothian Council led to his appointment in 1995

as Director of Education with Midlothian Council.

In his current remit, Donald is responsible for bringing together a wide range of

Council activities offering opportunities for the development of literacy across the

community.

Gillian MacKay

Gillian Mackay is Headteacher at Scotstoun Primary School in Glasgow, a city that

she has taught in for the past seventeen years. She has taught all stages and holds

her PGCE Primary Science and her Teaching French as a Modern Language in

Primary Schools. Before being appointed to lead Scotstoun Primary she was the

Headteacher of Wyndford and Maryhill Primary Schools. Gill was a member of the

McCabe Committee set up by the Scottish Parliament to look into the teaching of

sexual health and relationship education.

Before teaching in Primary schools, Gillian worked as an Education Officer for the

trade union MSF, and as a Training Officer for the National Union of Students. Prior

to this, Gill graduated as a Geologist and spent eight years as a research analytical

geologist running analytical laboratories at Swansea and Reading Universities.

Tommy MacKay

Professor Tommy MacKay is an educational and child psychologist. He is the author

of over 100 publications and has published in the field of literacy for the last 15 years.

Tommy is widely known as the architect of the West Dunbartonshire Literacy

Initiative, a 10-year research project which saw the authority become the first in the

world to eradicate illiteracy among school-leavers and which transformed the

landscape of reading across West Dunbartonshire.

Tommy's work has been the subject of a chapter in the Prime Minister's book,

Britain's Everyday Heroes, published in 2007, and his honours and awards include

fellowship of the British Psychological Society for an outstanding and original

contribution to psychology, an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow for

his contribution to educational psychology in Scotland, a Business Enterprise Award

21

for innovations and new applications, and national awards for challenging inequality

of opportunity and for distinguished contributions to professional psychology.

Iain McMillan CBE

Iain McMillan is the Director of CBI Scotland. He was appointed in 1995 and has full

executive responsibility for the CBI's Scottish operations. He leads Scottish business

representation and communicates Scottish business interests in Scotland, the United

Kingdom, the European Union and beyond. He is the author and co-author of a

number of publications on public policy as it relates to the business, economic and

legislative environment.

Iain is also Chairman of The University of Strathclyde Business School's Advisory

Board, Chairman of the Industrial Mission Trust, Chairman of the Scottish North

American Business Council and a Trustee of the Teaching Awards Trust. In 2008

and 2009, he served as a member of the Commission on Scottish Devolution (the

Calman Commission).

Iain is married to Giuseppina and they have three sons. He was educated at

Bearsden Academy and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers; Fellow of

the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland; Fellow of the Association of

International Accountants; Companion of the Chartered Management Institute;

Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; and Fellow of the Scottish Qualifications

Authority. In 2003, Iain was awarded the CBE for services to lifelong learning in

Scotland.

Gordon Matheson

Gordon Matheson is a senior Elected Member of Glasgow City Council. When the

Commission started its deliberations he was the Council's Executive Member for

Education and earlier this year was appointed to the post of City Treasurer.

Gordon is a graduate of both Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities and has been a

board member of a variety of organisations and institutions including the Royal

Scottish National Orchestra and the Court of Strathclyde University. He has a

professional background in both economic and personnel development and has

experience as a political lobbyist within the charitable sector.

Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin is a full-time novelist. His novella `A Cool Head', part of the Quick Reads

campaign aimed at reluctant readers and readers with literacy problems, was

published in 2009.

Gavin Reid

Gavin Reid Ph.D is an international author and educational psychologist. He was

formerly senior lecturer in educational studies at the University of Edinburgh, has

considerable experience as a classroom teacher and is the parent of a child with

special needs.

Gavin is currently Visiting Professor to the University of British Columbia in

Vancouver and is a consultant to the Center for Child Evaluation and Teaching in

Kuwait. He has lectured internationally in over fifty countries and has authored

twenty-four books on dyslexia and learning.

22

Lindsay Roy CBE

Lindsay Roy is the Member of Parliament for Glenrothes and Central Fife.

Prior to his election in November 2008, Lindsay was Rector of Inverkeithing High

School and Kirkcaldy High School and has held numerous education-related

positions including President of School Leaders Scotland (2004-2005) and Executive

Member of the International Confederation of Principals.

Graeme Waddell

Graeme Waddell is a former Business Director of Rolls-Royce Aero Repair and

Overhaul in East Kilbride. He is a product of the Rolls-Royce Management

Development Programme and his career over the past twenty years has covered

senior positions in operations management, marketing and sales, facilities

management and human resources.

Since leaving Rolls Royce in 2008, Graeme has formed his own company, Energen

Biogas, which deals in the field of renewable energy. In the public sector he is a

main board member of Scottish Enterprise, chairs the West Regional Advisory Board

and also chairs the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Board.

Graeme is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and Holds a BA and an MBA

from the University of Strathclyde.

Margaret Ward

Margaret is currently Head Teacher of Braidbar Primary School in Giffnock, a

position that she has held since 1994. Prior to this appointment, Margaret was

Depute Head and a senior teacher within the same school.

Between 2000 and 2007, Margaret served as a Part Time Associate Assessor with

HMIe and from 2004 was a member of the East Renfrewshire Team for Quality

Review of Schools.

Chris Young

Chris is a Policy Officer with Glasgow City Council who has provided research

support to the work of the Literacy Commission.

Chris joined Glasgow City Council in October 2007 following a period working as an

Associate Project Manager for a non-profit organisation in Washington, DC where he

helped to oversee the development of a major project with a national government.

He is a graduate of the University of Glasgow where he obtained his MA (Hons.) in

2005.

23

References

1 http:www.literacytrust.org.ukDatabasestatsadultstats.html

2

www.literacytrust.org.ukresearch

3

New Light on Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Scotland,

4 From Taking Stock, CBI's 2008 Education and Skills Survey.

5

From The Neale Analysis of Reading Ability, Revised British Edition. Used

with permission of Granada Learning.

6 In terms of writing, the appropriate level falls somewhere between the

following two examples of pupils' work, the first is a Personal Account at 5-14

level C.

I went to Falkirk one day and I was walking along the High Street by Asda and

I tripped over a brick and split my head. I was crying and mum took me to the

hospital I was put in surgery and then I had an operashin. I was still crying

and my mum calmed me down and the people stitched my head back

together. I felt dizzy and I was glad to get out of hospital. I was happy to be

home and I was tired so I went to bed. When I was asleep I had a dream

about being in hospital. When I woke up I washed all the blood off my hands

and I was angry with myself because I was not looking were I was going.

The spelling and punctuation have been faithfully copied. The handwriting of

the original is untidy but perfectly legible.

The second example is imagined personal" - the response to a given

topiccontext at 5-14 level D.

I woke up feeling all hot and bothered. That is when I noticed the dry sand

around me. I started to panic. I opened one eye and to my horror the tide

was just touching me. I started to flap to see if I was well and truely stuck.

Unfortunately I was. I started to get so sleepy because of the heat so I fell

asleep.

The next thing I knew I was itching all over so I blew out water all over my

body to see if, it would help, it did wonders.

I opened my eyes to see a small boy staring at me as if I was some sort of

exhibit. I felt threatened by him for some reason as if he was about to hurt me

though I knew deep down in my heart that such a small boy could ^ do much

to hurt me. Then the boy did something to change my mind. He scooped up

some lovely cool water and poured it over my dry hide. It felt wonderful. I

shook my flipper to thank the boy and he layed some wet green seaweed on

my back.

I started to be much less tense towards the boy since he had helped my. A

wave lashed against my large body I began to feel a bit happyer and I knew I

wouldn't be stuck for much longer.

24

Again, the spelling and punctuation have been faithfully copied. The

handwriting of the original is clear and tidy.

7 The most local unit of Italian local government, comparable to a town

council.

8

Reynolds, S., MacKay, T. amp; Kearney, M. (in press). Nurture groups: a largescale,

controlled study of effects on development and academic attainment.

British Journal of Special Education.

9 Cowling, K. amp; Cowling, H. (1993). Toe By Toe: A Highly Structured Multi-

Sensory Reading Manual for Teachers and Parents. Baildon, West Yorks:

Printed and published by Scottish Parent Teacher Council, a Company Limited by Guarantee,

Company No SC151086, Scottish Charity No SC019168

A

Vision for Scotland

The Report and Final Recommendations of the
Literacy Commission
December 2009
2
Preface
It was a privilege to be asked to Chair the Literacy Commission and, along with my colleagues, to produce a report and series of recommendations that
we believe can help to address the low levels of avoidable illiteracy that still
exist in Scotland today.
From the outset, the Commission has operated on an independent and
impartial basis using its own, limited resources. The findings that we have
produced are not intended to support the aims and objectives of any individual
political party or organisation and, it is with this in mind, that we offer our
report to Scottish society as a whole.
Literacy is a massive topic that covers not just the traditional skills of reading
and writing but other literacy skill sets, such as emotional and financial
literacy. Poor literacy affects not just school children; it also affects adults and
those with learning difficulties. The Commission considered these different
aspects and decided from the outset to focus its work on those children who
have the capacity to learn and develop their literacy skills but who are
currently failing to do so.
For the past 18 months, the Commission has reviewed evidence from a
variety of individuals and organisations with first hand experience of dealing
with the problem of poor literacy, and considered very closely the factors that
can contribute to this. Our report sets out eleven clear recommendations that
we believe can address the problem of poor basic literacy and, if adopted by
Scottish society, will place us in the enviable position of being the developed
world's first fully literate nation.
The membership of the Commission was drawn from a cross-section of
Scottish society and includes respected figures from the worlds of academe,
business, politics, culture and education. (For more information on members
of the Commission, please see the end of the Report.) It is sufficient here to
say that the insights, experiences and thought-provoking debate that this mix
of people produced greatly enhanced the Commission's work and I am very
grateful for the time and effort each of my Commission colleagues has
devoted to this project.
Judith Gillespie
Convener
3
Introduction: The Vision - Zero Tolerance of Illiteracy
The introduction sets out the vision for the report - zero-tolerance of illiteracy -
and sets out the problems currently facing Scotland.
This report sets out a vision which would give Scotland a position of world
leadership: zero tolerance of illiteracy. For years in Scotland, as in other
nations across the world, we have tolerated the intolerable. We have
accepted a situation in which thousands of our young people leave school
every year with correctable problems that leave them functionally illiterate -
that is, without the basic literacy skills to function in a modern society.
The Commission was set up in response to concerns about the persistence of
very low levels of literacy among a significant minority of Scottish school
leavers. From the outset the Commission acknowledged that there is a very
small number of children for whom basic literacy is an unachievable objective
because of physiological factors or severe learning difficulties. The focus of
this report is not on these problems, important as they are, but on the issue of
low achievement among those youngsters at school for whom there is no
apparent barrier to acquiring adequate literacy skills.
The consequence of this failure is shown in the number of adults in Scotland
without such skills. The available evidence suggests the total may be
approaching a million. Not only does this represent a vast economic cost to
our society, it also constitutes an unacceptable social cost in terms of quality
of life and well-being, the more so as the steps that are required to ensure
that every young person becomes literate prior to leaving school are already
established in research and practice. But, the vision cannot be fulfilled
nationally unless there is total commitment to a zero tolerance policy and the
actions necessary to achieve this.
However, this is only the starting point because, although acquisition of the
basic skills of literacy is absolutely essential, it is not a sufficient definition of a
fully literate nation.
The Scope of the Problem
This section highlights the problems currently faced in the UK through the use
of statistical evidence and compares this with evidence from abroad.
UK Data
There is no nationalofficial measure of how many children are going through
the school system without acquiring basic literacy skills but, using what
information is available, a good estimate would be that in Scotland 18.5%
leave primary school without being functionally literate - some 13,000
youngsters a year at current population levels. However, there is
considerable local variation with a range of between 10% and 26% correlating
to different levels of socio-economic disadvantage.
4
Primary and early secondary national test scores are another source of
evidence and, whilst these are not immune to question, when aggregated to
local authority level, some significance can be attached to them. In relation to
both reading and writing, the proportion of children failing to achieve the
expected standards, as defined in the 5 - 14 programme, varies enormously.
For example, by the age of 14, the percentage of children not achieving level
E in reading in 2008 exceeded 20% in two authorities, ranged between 10%
and 19% in six others, and was reported as 0% in 14 authorities, although it
is not clear what this "0%" means. Figures relating to writing were less
satisfactory. Only in 3 areas were all children said to have achieved the
expected standard while, in 2 areas, half the children did not and, in a further
6, at least 30% fell below the expected level.
Levels of success in national tests broadly follow socio-economic factors with
poorer areas faring badly, although a small number of partial exceptions is
evident. However, many youngsters do not overcome their lack of literacy
skill in secondary school and, taking the more objective SQA performance of
general educational success as an indicator of literacy standards, then
exceptions disappear and achievement follows social circumstances to an
alarming degree.
There are no official national statistics on literacy levels for secondary school
leavers, and those that exist are hard to interpret, but an indication of the
scale and impact of the problem across the United Kingdom can be found in
statistics on adult literacy presented by the National Literacy Trust1. In
England, the 2003 "Skills for Life" survey found that 5.2 million adults (or 16%
of the 16-65 population) had literacy levels at or below `Entry Level 3', the
standard expected of an 11 year old child. The figure for Wales was higher at
25%. No comparable figures are given for Scotland; however a 2001 report
by the Scottish Executive indicated that 23% of the adult population may have
low literacy and numeracy skills.
International Comparisons
The Commission was interested to know how reading standards in Scotland
compare with other countries but found this surprisingly difficult to establish.
There is no answer that can be regarded as truly authoritative.
There are currently two major international surveys that cover standards in
literacy - Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and
Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Both have the
merit of being repeated at regular intervals but the findings are open to
question, with the tests more attuned to the cultures of some countries than
others. However, these international comparisons do give valuable
information and at least an indication of standards of performance.
Whilst Scotland did well in both the 2000 and 2003 PISA studies, Scottish
performance in the 2006 study was less encouraging and was not much
above the average (499 points against an average of 492). Five countries
(Canada, Finland, Ireland, Korea and New Zealand) did better and a further
14 (including England) performed at much the same level.
5
The PIRLS study showed a similar decline; in 2006 Scotland was ranked 26th
out of 45, compared with 14th in the previous study. The international
evidence, despite problems of interpretation arising from the definition of
literacy and the attainment measures used, does not support the idea that
Scotland is a world leader. Furthermore, there is a worrying suggestion in
both PISA and PIRLS that other countries may be progressing faster than
Scotland.
The Impact of Poor Literacy
This section sets out the impact of poor literacy on individuals and society,
drawing upon the findings of a CBI report into the impact of low readingwriting
skills.
Poor literacy levels matter because they have an impact both on individuals
and on society. A very powerful report by the National Literacy Trust
(September 2008), which pulls together existing research about the
relationship between literacy and five areas of life: economic status,
aspirations, family life, health and civiccultural engagement, highlights not
just the impact of socio-economic factors on low literacy levels but also how
those low literacy levels, in turn, affect life chances and further exclude people
from participating in society2.
The scope and seriousness of these problems is indicated further by figures
from the Office of National Statistics which show that in the 50-65 age group,
31% of males and 40% of females have a literacy standard normally achieved
by the end of early primary years. Moreover, a Scottish Executive report in
2001 found that some 800,000 adults, of whom 500,000 were in work, had
significant literacy problems, whilst a subsequent report in 20083 revealed that
39% of men and 36% of women of working age had literacy abilities at a level
that was likely to impact on their employment and life chances.
The view from employers is shown in a CBI survey on the impact of
illiteracypoor readingwriting skills in the work place4. This gave evidence
(see below) that the major concern about literacy, shared by 72% of
respondents, was the quality of written English - constructing properly spelt
sentences with accurate grammar. Moreover, this concern applied to
graduates as well as to school leavers.
Leading areas of concern.
Area of concern % of respondents
Constructing properly spelt,
grammatically correct writing
72
More complex literacy tasks 46
Understanding oral communication
and articulating a clear response
39
Reading and understanding basic
texts
32
6
It is clear that many of the concerns identified relate to higher levels of skill
than basic decoding. This accords with the Commission's opinion that literacy
is a continuum with significant points relating to key skill levels at different
stages along it. This view does not minimise the importance of ensuring that
all children attain basic literacy skills as timeously as possible, but it does
mean that they should not be left at this level. It is a purpose of education to
move youngsters as far along the continuum as possible.
Defining Basic Literacy
This section defines a level of `basic literacy' for the purposes of the report,
bearing in mind that there is no official definition of literacy and recognising
that the simple process of decoding is insufficient by itself.
The Commission spent some time discussing what constituted a basic level of
literacy and what this enabled someone to do. Although the Scottish
Government is keen to emphasise that literacy is central to Curriculum for
Excellence (CfE) and that every teacher is to become a teacher of literacy,
there is no official definition. In 2008, in answer to a Parliamentary Question,
the Minister for Schools and Skills confirmed that "The Scottish Government
does not have a definition of functional literacy".
In fact, literacy is a very complex concept, involving, at a more advanced
level, a range of higher order skills such as critical thinking, creative writing,
appraising style or detecting bias, and this complex view - that literacy is a
continuum, covering advanced skills as well as basic - is the one laid out in
the CfE Experiences and Outcomes. At its most basic level, literacy crucially
involves competence in readingdecoding (defined as the process of deriving
meaning from systematised graphic shapes) and in writing. The realisation
that text conveys meaning is itself an important skill and one that only has to
be learnt once. However, basic skills of decoding and writing are, on their
own, not sufficient to enable someone to function in adult society and the
Commission felt that it was this ability (to function in an adult society) that
should be used to define "basic literacy". In West Dunbartonshire, the age
standard identified as delivering this was 9 years 6 months which is illustrated
in the reading example below.
Text of Level 4 reading passage
Jan buckled on her diving belt of metal weights and dropped from the launch.
Skipper Kells supervised her air-hose to prevent tangling. Leo, following the
bubbles, guided the dinghy above the diver as she searched the mysterious
underwater world.
Jan surfaced frequently, clutching crayfish. The required number of
specimens was almost obtained when the grey nurse shark advanced directly
towards her. Jan retreated cautiously without signalling for assistance. The
creature brushed by, ignoring her, as baby sharks emerged from some rocky
grooves. Their welfare was more important to the shark than the diver's now
motionless figure. 5
7
Anyone mastering this stage should be able to read the passage aloud,
following its meaning with few errors in accuracy. It equates to a midpoint
between levels C and D in the 5-14 programme and the beginning of stage 2
in Curriculum for Excellence. It provides an adequate level of literacy to start
engaging with the secondary school curriculum, complete a basic form, read a
tabloid newspaper and function at a basic level in society; it is an important
staging post on the literacy continuum. However, it would not allow a
youngster to complete the secondary curriculum or function at a higher level
in society and should not be regarded as the end point. (For comparable
examples of writing, see footnote 6.)
Social and Economic Disadvantage
These paragraphs define socio-economic disadvantage as the most important
cause of correctable poor literacy and describes the negative effects that this
has on the life chances and achievement of children.
In order to find an appropriate solution to the problem of poor literacy levels, it
is necessary to look at causes. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that,
whilst other factors have a modest impact, the most important cause of
correctable poor literacy is socio-economic disadvantage. Figures given
earlier in the report show that, whether the measure used is National Test
scores or the more objective SQA results, children in less affluent areas tend
to be less successful. While individuals may defy this trend, no school in a
deprived neighbourhood is able to record a similar level of success to that
achieved by almost all schools in the most affluent areas. It is evident that
socio-economic circumstances continue to outweigh other factors such as
quality of teaching, a point made forcibly by the OECD 2007 report Quality
and Equity of Schooling in Scotland - "Not all schools work equally well in
Scotland. But the gaps between them are far less important than differences
between students. In Scotland, who you are is far more important than what
school you attend".
Material disadvantage can have a simple and direct effect on educational
opportunity. Housing is more likely to be crowded with no quiet place for
study. Families are often unable to afford the trips and other experiences that
enrich the developing mind. Lack of money can be an important factor in
deciding whether a child has to leave school at 16 or is able to continue
further. However, less obvious effects of socio-economic circumstances are
even more influential and, as is now widely recognised, cumulative. The
same groups suffer from poorer health, less adequate housing, exposure to
crime and violence and lower chances of educational success. These
disadvantages are not merely correlated, they are causally related. The Chief
Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr. Harry Burns, has recently presented
research which offers persuasive arguments that a child's whole
circumstances affect life-chances in a way that is generally decisive.
Medical evidence suggests that disadvantage has a physiological impact on
the human body that not only makes children more liable to disease and early
death but also inhibits their brain development and makes them less able to
8
learn. It is widely recognised that children who experience chaotic family
circumstances or who do not receive the appropriate responses to cries of
discomfort or smiles of happiness experience problems in their development.
If these are not redressed early, they may have lasting consequences
because the first few years of a child's life are when many key stages in brain
development happen. Such children are not only likely to make a poor start in
education but also rapidly fall further behind. Moreover, the disadvantage is
generally long-lasting, impairing their capacity to make progress at later
stages.
Disadvantage in this extreme form is illustrated by evidence from Glasgow. In
one P67 class, 21 out of 24 children had faced severe problems in their lives
including drugalcohol abuse by a parent, family death and violence. More
generally, some children arrive at nursery at the age of three or even four with
barely any language and poorly developed social and motor skills. It is selfevident
that such children lack the prior experiences that would equip them to
learn.
A particularly vulnerable group are children looked after by local authorities,
both in children's homes and in their own homes. The overall number has
doubled in most local authorities over the past four years, largely because of
social problems such as parental drugalcohol abuse and domestic violence.
Often, the focus on education takes second place to their more immediate
social and behavioural needs. Many, through no fault of their own, have
become disengaged from mainstream schooling, suffer from complex needs
and are well known to a variety of different support services, such as social
work.
However, the effects of disadvantage are more widespread than even these
examples might suggest. The statistical evidence cited earlier indicates
clearly that, even if children have supportive and loving families, socioeconomic
disadvantage will severely reduce their likelihood of success.
The reasons for this have received less attention than they merit. However, it
seems clear that the awareness of living at a low point in a social hierarchy is
itself very damaging. It is liable to reduce self-esteem, morale and motivation.
Meanwhile, being excluded from the culture and discourse of more privileged
groups may reduce competence in activities that are socially and
educationally valued. There is again medical evidence that such exclusion
increases stress and precipitates a number of potentially damaging
physiological responses.
Furthermore, so pervasive is the effect of disadvantage that it tends to
subsume other factors. In recent years girls have out-performed boys in most
aspects of school work (although not in later success in life). Theories have
been developed indicating that sedentary literacy-based activities better suit
girls' preferred styles of learning. Although there is truth in such views, it is
even more significant that changes in society have left traditional male manual
employment highly marginalised. The result is a merging of gender-related
factors with the more powerful issue of disadvantage. Such a view is
supported by a variety of evidence, including from the Clackmannanshire
project (see Page 13 et seq), that gender differences can be substantially
9
reduced or even eliminated by well-conceived and systematic policies
combined with sound teaching.
Experiences of the Past
This section points out that there has been no `golden age' of literacy and to
exemplify this draws on the school experiences of adults presently engaged in
adult literacy schemes.
There is no evidence to suggest that there has ever been some literacy
"golden age" and figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal higher
levels of poor literacy among the 50-65 age group than the 16-24 age group.
The Commission itself considered evidence from adults who were
participating in adult literacy and numeracy schemes. Personal reflections by
this group identified the following as impediments to learning:-
- Missing school - often because of problems at home - resulted in learning
gaps that were hard to make up. Youngsters then lost confidence in their
ability to learn.
- Learning difficulties that were not identified early enough
- A lack of appropriate and sustained help as and when it was needed
- Their own behaviour e.g. being easily distracted andor truanting
- Parents who did not push them to learnstay on task
- A learning-support curriculum that did not match the classroom curriculum
- Confidence undermined by being removed from the class (and separated
from friends) for learning-support.
It is noteworthy that this group identified personal failure - either their own or
others in terms of the lack of support they received - as the cause of their
problem and appeared to be largely unaware of systemic problems arising
from their social and economic circumstances.
English as an Additional Language (EAL)
This section does not claim EAL to be a factor in poor literacy but identifies
findings from a report on EAL teaching that identified the issues associated
with helping children with poorly-developed English language skills and the
importance of wider community support.
The Commission took time to consider English as an Additional Language
(EAL). It is not itself a factor in poor literacy - indeed a number of Glasgow
schools with a high percentage of asylum seeker or recently arrived children
for whom English is not their first language are out-performing other local
schools. However, a report on EAL teaching provided some very instructive
insight into both the problems of helping youngsters with poorly-developed
English language skills and the importance of community support.
It is clear that the concept of decoding is a bit like riding a bike - once a
youngster has learnt that reading a written script is possible, this awareness
10
can be transferred from language to language even when the "graphic
shapes" used are quite different e.g. from Chinese to English.
It is necessary for someone to have language to think in before they can read.
In the EAL setting this means that it is more important for parents to develop a
child's use of their own language than teach himher English, if the parents'
own English language is limited. Moreover, there is a need to overcome
potential difficulties arising from a mismatch between the cultures of the
learners (whether EAL or those from socio-economically disadvantaged
areas) and the education they receive.
The Role of Testing
This section identifies the Commission's view on testing as having two
purposes; to certify student progress and to identify struggling schoolchildren.
The Commission considered the current focus on testing for literacy and a
proposal within Curriculum for Excellence that all youngsters should acquire a
formal qualification, establishing their literacy level, in their third year of
secondary school. For its part, the Commission recognised the value and use
of testing and saw it as having two particular purposes - certification and
diagnosis. Testing highlights the importance of the area to be tested - in this
case, literacy. It gives evidence of standards to employers and those in more
advanced levels of education. It provides baseline data which are useful for
establishing what is happening in Scotland and for showing how achievement
has changed over time. It is also important as a means of holding those
responsible for education to account for what they deliver.
However, the Commission sees that a central purpose of testing is to provide
diagnostic information about students who are struggling, and for working out
what steps should be taken to help them progress. The methodology and
timing of such tests are crucial for identifying the scale of literacy difficulties.
Such tests do not have to be applied to all youngsters but can be used in an
increasingly focused way to help those who have been identified as having
problems.
Improving Literacy - the Evidence
i) Addressing the Consequences of Social and Economic Disadvantage
At this point, the report identifies the need to begin addressing socioeconomic
disadvantage from an early-age and also draws on evidence from
local government in Italy.
The medical evidence on the impact of very early experience on brain
development and the consequences of disadvantage would indicate that
redress has to begin from birth or, indeed, before. The quality of antenatal
care and the behaviour of women during pregnancy have far-reaching
consequences for children but do not fall within the Commission's remit, which
was concerned with the years after birth. However, this should in no way
11
detract from the considerable importance of providing quality services in the
earliest years.
In terms of the very young, the best developed services are to be found in
northern Italy, particularly in those commune7 that have been influenced by
the pioneering work in Reggio Emilia over a period of more than forty years.
In San Miniato, for example, over 40% of very young children between birth
and the age of three receive one of a variety of education and care services,
such as attending a nido or nursery for the very young, run by the commune.
A common feature of these services is direct support to parents (including
many fathers) to help them feel more confident and competent in supporting
their children. San Miniato's services, all paid for through local taxes with
means-tested contributions from parents, express the notion of support by the
whole community for families in the task of raising children.
Thus, building family capacity has to be a central feature of any systematic
attempt to redress the cultural disadvantage that some young children
otherwise encounter from the outset of formal education. Children coming
from homes where conversation centres on ideas and where adults
demonstrate by their habits that literacy is valued, arrive at school equipped to
benefit from what teachers have to offer. It is as if they already have the
outline of a mental jigsaw in place. When the teacher offers a new piece, they
can see where it fits; it becomes meaningful and memorable. Unless steps
are taken to counteract cultural disadvantage, many other children,
particularly those who are looked after by local authorities, will never build
their mental jigsaws. New learning will have nowhere to fit in and will be
quickly forgotten.
In the UK, increasing understanding of the importance of the early years
(together with a desire to give mothers easier access to the labour market)
has led to a huge expansion in services for pre-school children. In the late
1990s public money was invested on a massive scale in a variety of public
and private nursery provision.
However, these new services were devoted almost entirely to the 3-5 agegroup
and provision for younger children was very modest. But, by the age of
three the most prolific stage of brain development has been completed and a
child's environment in terms of the ethos of the family and local community
will already have had a significant and lasting effect.
This is not an argument to do nothing because a child's fate is determined by
the age of three. Services for the young that directly enrich the experience of
children, whilst not a substitute for what the parents can offer, can go a
considerable way towards alleviating disadvantage. So, mindful of the
evidence on poverty, including much from Glasgow, and of the importance of
building support within the child's home and community, the Commission was
very interested to learn of the success of nurture groups, an early years'
programme that takes youngsters from the most problematic backgrounds
and places them in small groups with a specially trained teacher and support
staff. The emphasis is on providing care for the children, and on developing
their social and emotional skills. The groups work closely with the parents to
help them understand how they in turn might better support their children's
12
development. A recent research evaluation of the nurture groups8 found not
only that they were successful in their original purpose, but that they have
also raised the attainment levels of the children involved.
In the very early years, formal education is of no relevance. The important
action is to build the preconditions for later learning. Good services for the
youngest age group bring together health, care and education in a seamless
way. Effective support for potentially disadvantaged children requires a
continuity that is currently not offered and a focus on the whole family and the
whole process of development. In this way a basis is laid for success in later
learning including acquisition of the fundamental learning skill of literacy.
In terms of looked-after children, there are examples of successful practice
across the country. For example, in West Lothian, a multi-agency approach
has helped to raise achievement by focusing on the educational, social and
health needs of the children. For older children, Glasgow's Enhanced
Vocational Inclusion Programme (EVIP) has provided looked-after children
with an alternative to mainstream schooling. The programme is designed to
allow the children and young people the chance to study a vocational
qualification while at the same time developing core life skills.
ii) Successful Action - Evidence from School Projects
This section highlights four features of successful literacy schemes adopted
after 1997 and also describes further evidence from adult learners.
Within the school context, there is a lot of evidence on how to overcome
literacy problems through focused teaching. From its inception, the
Commission has attracted a lot of information from individuals and
groupsorganisations who have developed successful schemes for teaching
literacy. Indeed, in 1997 Scotland itself was as close to a complete
commitment to literacy-for-all as it has ever been. The Early Years' Initiative
was a national policy that both required and allowed the 32 authorities to
develop their own schemes. However, although the scheme was generously
funded by central government, only some of the projects were really
successful, demonstrating that whilst having the necessary resources for any
programme is important, resources alone are not a sufficient guarantee of
success. In order to understand how to overcome the problem of poor
literacy, it is helpful to look more closely at the key features in those
programmes that peer-reviewed research has shown did succeed.
1) National Leadership
Successive Governments have made literacy a priority and provided funding
but there has been a lack of consistency and constancy. To be successful, a
zero-tolerance literacy policy has to be adopted for the long term. However,
whilst leadership from the top is important, this has to be balanced by the
essential ingredients of local ownership, differentiation and commitment.
There needs to be commitment at every level from First Minister, through
Council leaders, educational directorate, head teachers and all parties
including teachers, volunteers, parents and pupils. The West Dunbartonshire
project, which has lasted 12 years to date, was supported by such
commitment so that it survived several changes of Director of Education,
13
three changes of the education officer responsible for the project, three
changes of project leader, 90% change of staff in the specialist early
intervention team and several changes of Council Leader, accompanied at
times by changes in the political balance of power in the Council.
2) Starting Early with Formal Literacy
In order to address the problems that youngsters bring to school, whether in
terms of social disadvantage or learning difficulties, it is necessary to start
literacy programmes from a very early age. This was true of successful Early
Years' Initiative projects. In Clackmannanshire, the Synthetic Phonics
experiment began with a cohort of children at the P1 level and followed them
through the course of their primary education. In West Dunbartonshire,
children were targeted from pre-school age and support has continued into
the secondary stage. A recently completed pilot writing project in North
Lanarkshire similarly focused on children in the early years of primary school.
In line with comments from some adult returners, that they had addressed
their own literacy problems when faced with helping their children, the
Commission noted the impact (sometimes unexpected) that the literacy
initiatives had on the parents of children involved. For example, there were
cases in West Dunbartonshire where parents at parents' evenings confided to
teachers that they had reading difficulties. Education officials in North
Lanarkshire also reported similar situations, and in both cases the authorities
in question were able to provide advice and direct parents to support
structures. Overcoming poor literacy cannot be left solely to schools.
Success also depends on support and commitment from the home and
community. Picking up on this aspect, a new and as yet unreviewed project in
Glasgow places an emphasis on literacy across generations in a continuum
from early-years to the workplace and the wider community.
3) Teaching Approaches - Careful Monitoring and Continuous
Professional Development (CPD)
All successful schemes have relied heavily on synthetic phonics but have
used a variety of approaches to ensure that the necessary measures of
literacy were available at the right time for children experiencing difficulties.
The requirement to switch approaches as appropriate means it is necessary
and important to use diagnostic tests to identify the exact position of every
child vulnerable to reading failure, and to monitor the progress of all children.
It also means that good CPD is an essential element of any successful
programme, as it develops teachers' skills, puts the teacher in charge and so
helps build the necessary commitment at school level. If a project is to
maximise its potential, there needs to be evidence of professional buy-in for
its aims and objectives at the local level. While government may choose to
direct funding to advance a particular vision or strategy, successful projects
tend to be those that have been formulated at a local level, giving teachers
and education officials maximum input into designing and implementing a
project. If teachers are made to feel as though they are supporting a remote
reform agenda, then these projects are the most likely to fail.
14
4) Intervention Strategies
For some youngsters good teaching is not enough. Intensive support is
necessary if they are to make progress, and there are a number of readingrecovery
support schemes that have been developed. However, some of
these are dedicated programmes which take the child out of school, often
isolate the pupil from hisher peers and are expensive. It is more inclusive
and less expensive to run in-school schemes. West Dunbartonshire's project
aimed to ensure that no child was left behind, using initiatives such as
intensive daily one-to-one work with children and the "Toe By Toe"
programme9 which intervened with children who were clearly still struggling
further up primary school. The Clackmannanshire project similarly provided
rigorous pupil monitoring and intervention where required through catch-up
groups and homework clubs.
What Needs to be Done - the Views of Adult Learners
The adult returners who identified impediments to their learning were also
quite clear about what they felt would have made a difference. It was
noteworthy that the steps that they identified as being desirablenecessary
matched very closely the steps taken in the school projects that were studied:-
- Better identification of learning difficulties
- Early intervention so that youngsters do not fall behind
- Necessary help in terms of more time for explanation, more reinforcing of
explanations and more effort by the teacher to ensure that real
understanding has taken place
- One-to one help when necessary
- Involving parents and supporting them (A number of the adults reported
that they had got involved in literacy programmes to help their own
children's learning and that their classes had then helped them understand
their children's difficulties.)
- More pressure on youngsters to attend school and to keep on task -
youngsters should not be just left to get on with things.
- Motivation - youngsters should be helped to understand why reading
matters and their interest encouraged by good reading material at the
appropriate level.
- The learning support curriculum should match the regular curriculum so
that youngsters can keep in step with their peers.
Moving Beyond Basic Literacy
In this section, the report highlights the need to move children beyond a basic
level of literacy in order that they can fully engage with modern society and the
workplace.
As indicated earlier, the Commission agreed from the outset that literacy is a
continuum that extends beyond basic literacy skills. Different levels of literacy
are needed; for example, for undertaking a modern apprenticeship, for most
jobs (SCQF level 5) and for Further and Higher Education. In this age of
information overload via the Internet, it is important that all youngsters are
equipped with analytical skills so that they can understand not just the
15
information that is provided but also its validity. Did the author of the
information have a vested interest in persuading the reader of a particular
version of the truth? Literacy is also not the sole responsibility of local
authorities and schools. Literacy should go beyond the remit of formal
education and become embedded across society in order to ensure
continuous development. Partnership working, involving the public, private
and voluntary sectors, is key if poor literacy across society is to be
challenged.
In looking at how youngsters can be helped to move beyond basic literacy,
the Commission began by considering the significant number of young people
who acquire basic skills of decoding but do not go on to become independent
readers. Indeed, in some cases, skills are gradually lost and youngsters
become, at best, reluctant and marginally competent readers. Why do some
children not progress beyond early literacy skills and what can be done to
help them?
On a totally practical level, it is important to ensure that the reading material
offered to reluctant readers matches their interests and maturity. On this
score, Project X, which has just been launched in England, provides an
interesting example. It uses the "playstation approach" to attract boys in
particular to reading. A recent parent-led research project in Aberdeen
identified the Guinness Book of Records and comics as items that kept
children reading. Schools must not be prescriptive in what constitutes
suitable reading material and should accept what interests the child whilst
trying to move on to more ambitious material.
However, one of the most significant facts to emerge from the evaluation of
the Clackmannanshire literacy project related to a loss of impetus somewhere
around the middle of primary schooling. Whereas in P1-3 almost all of the
traditional differences in attainment between girls and boys and between
schools with socially different catchment area disappeared, by P7 socioeconomic
disadvantage had begun to reassert itself, although overall
standards remained higher and gender differences lower than before.
It is reasonable to conclude that, as the element of comprehension becomes
more significant than the mechanical skill of decoding, cultural and
environmental factors begin to impede the progress of some learners,
especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. If these children are to
build on their early success in the acquisition of basic literacy skills, these
factors must be tackled.
Returning to the correlation of educational failure and socio-economic
disadvantage, there is no instance in Scotland of a school serving a poor
neighbourhood and achieving results comparable to those of schools in the
most affluent areas. Moreover, as has already been indicated, a child's early
experience of life largely determines the speed and accuracy with which they
form fundamental concepts. If the framework is well-developed, the child is
better able to integrate into it the new information and ideas that the school
presents. Early experience relevant to the processes of school learning
constitutes an overwhelming advantage. This is why the Commission places
such emphasis on supporting parents and redressing the effects of social and
16
economic disadvantage at an early stage. But there is also a need for
schools to increase their efforts to enrich the experience of children from
disadvantaged backgrounds and for government to adopt a similar approach
to the problem of stalled or regressing literacy as was adopted for early
stages around ten years ago.
Finally, turning to the issue of how to develop higher literacy skills, it is
important to define what those skills are. The CfE Experiences and
Outcomes take us part of the way. Skills, such as organising information,
distinguishing fact from opinion and summarising, are mentioned and could
contribute to an approach to higher literacy based on progression in skills.
Communicating at an advanced level through the written word is heavily
dependent on skills such as these. However, their use is by no means
confined to traditional printed media. At this level, the development of
literacy-related skills merges into a more general form of intellectual
development.
If young people are to develop these higher-order intellectual skills, it is crucial
that they are explicitly taught. Young people should be made aware at the
outset what skills they are going to acquire and why they are important. At
the conclusion of any unit of work, they should be reminded of what they have
learned and be made aware of its application. This element of metacognition
is a crucial part of sound learning at any level. It is no less significant when
dealing with learning at an advanced level.
It is important that the skill is seen as being of widespread application. The
ability to use knowledge, understanding and skills in areas other than the one
in which they were acquired is essential. In some highly specialised areas of
learning, skills may be needed for very specific purposes and have few
applications in other contexts. The higher-order skills, like analysis and
critical thinking, which are associated with advanced literacy, are not like this;
they have everyday significance in much the same way as basic decoding.
They are the transferable skills of the 21st century.
It may seem a long journey from the earliest stages of familiarity with letters to
the application of critical understanding at advanced levels but, as has been
stated, all literacy-related skills are part of a continuum. Schools have the
task of trying to ensure that every young person progresses as far along it as
possible. An effective national strategy for literacy must take this as its
objective.
Recommendations
If the problems of poor basic literacy are to be addressed, there has to be a
recognition that socio-economic issues are the main underlying cause and
there need to be programmes that focus on addressing these problems. As
the report by the National Literacy Trust makes clear, only in this way will it be
possible to create a virtuous upward spiral that enables everyone to
participate in the literate society and lifts people out of disadvantage. This
leads us to make the following clear recommendations.
17
The Commitment
1. As a nation, Scotland should make a formal commitment to zero
tolerance of illiteracy.
2. There should be a sustained policy commitment from all levels of
government and educational management to address the issue of
improving standards of literacy at all levels.
3. A focus for local authorities should be to ensure that best practice is
shared in order to develop consistent, effective, multi-agency strategies
that meet the emotional as well as literacy needs of the children in their
care.
4. The allocation of education resources should reflect the priority of
improving literacy levels.
Pre-requisites for Learning
5. There should be a focus on early years to address the negative effects of
socio-economic disadvantage on learning. This should include:-
a. Pilot schemes in a number of local authorities serving areas of
socio-economic disadvantage to provide continuous and
systematic support for families with children in the birth-to-three
age group
b. Local authorities, as corporate parents, taking responsibility for a
more holistic approach to ensure that the very specific
educational, behavioural and social needs of looked-after children
are properly addressed
c. Systematic support for parents in assisting their children's early
learning
d. Sustained efforts by nurseries and schools to enrich the life
experience of children from disadvantaged circumstances
e. Use of nurture groups in primary schools in areas of disadvantage
f. Professional development to support these initiatives including the
necessary changes to Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and
subsequent CPD
Acquiring Basic Skills
6. Within the context of an overall national strategy, each local authority
and every school should develop local literacy plans suited to their
individual circumstances. These plans should involve:-
a. Systematic and supportive monitoring of outcomes both by HMIe
and by local authorities
b. Modification of policy and practice in the light of the findings
c. A commitment to effective and appropriate action to support every
individual child at every stage of learning.
7. Successful schemes should involve the following elements:-
a. Commencement at an early age
b. Reliance on a highly structured phonics programme (normally
involving synthetic phonics) as the approach to getting the great
majority of children decoding successfully
18
c. Use of a range of other approaches to tackle cases of difficulty up
to and including intensive individual tuition for children who
continue to experience significant reading problems
d. Programmes of high quality professional development, regularly
updated and consistently available.
Beyond Basic Skills
8. A national strategy should set priorities for assisting children to move
beyond basic literacy by improving standards of comprehension and
higher-order literacy skills. This strategy should be informed by research
and by good practice.
9. Within the national strategy each local authority should develop a local
scheme in the same way as was done after 1997 in relation to basic
literacy.
10. Progress of local schemes should be carefully monitored and good
practice shared in a systematic process of continuous improvement and
professional development.
11. Raising levels of higher-order literacy-related skills should be a priority
objective within the Curriculum for Excellence development programme.
19
Commission Membership
Judith Gillespie (Chair)
Judith Gillespie first became actively involved in Scottish Education during the
teachers' strike in 1985. Since then, she has been constantly involved both at
national and local authority level. In 1989 she became a Director of the Scottish
Parent Teacher Council, moving on to become its Convener and then Development
Manager, a post she currently holds.
Judith was a Director of Moray House at the time of its merger with Edinburgh
University and, from 2001 to June 2009, on the Board of the Scottish Qualifications
Authority. She has served on numerous Government committees, including the
Higher Still Development Group and the Curriculum Review Group. As a
spokesperson for parents, Judith has frequently contributed to radio and television
programmes, written letters and articles for the press and contributed to a number of
educational publications.
Keir Bloomer
Keir Bloomer is an independent education consultant. He is also Chair of the
Tapestry Partnership, Vice-convenor of Children in Scotland and Vice-Chair of the
Court of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.
Between 2000 and 2007, he served as Chief Executive of Clackmannanshire Council
and prior to this, served as the Director of Education and Community Services for the
authority.
He was a member of the review group which wrote "A Curriculum for Excellence",
Scotland's national curriculum policy statement, and at various times during his
career has served as the Vice-Chair of Learning and Teaching Scotland, Depute
General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland and a member of the
General Teaching Council.
He is well-known in Scotland as a speaker and writer on a wide variety of educational
topics.
Geraldine Gammell
Geraldine Gammell is the Director of the Prince's Trust in Scotland, the youth charity
which helps young people get their lives on track and move into education,
employment and training.
She is a Chartered Accountant by trade and an English Literature graduate from
Glasgow University.
John Loughton
Born in Edinburgh, John is the youngest member of the Commission and studied at
the University of Stirling. A committed champion for young people's rights, John has
been extremely active at a local, national and international level to safeguard and
ensure young people's voices and ideas are central to the political process as well as
across society. At 19, John was elected as the chairman of the Scottish Youth
Parliament and during this time was also appointed as Vice Convener of the Scottish
Parliament's Cross Party Group on Children and Young People, a Board Director for
20
YouthLink Scotland, the national youth work agency, and represented young people
across the United Kingdom at a number of international platforms such as the UK
European Presidency Summit.
In January 2008, John appeared on and won the reality TV show Big Brother:
Celebrity Hijack where he aimed to spread a positive message of young people and
promoted a number of important campaigns affecting young people.
John also served as a member of the Commission on Scottish Devolution (Calman
Commission) and currently works as a Policy Manager and lobbyist for a national
voluntary organisation.
Donald MacKay
Donald MacKay is the Director of Education and Communities with Midlothian
Council.
His teaching career began in 1971 and following spells as an Assistant Headteacher
and Headteacher became Curriculum Development Officer for Fife Council. Donald's
subsequent career accomplishments as an adviser in Primary Education and
Assistant Director of Education with Lothian Council led to his appointment in 1995
as Director of Education with Midlothian Council.
In his current remit, Donald is responsible for bringing together a wide range of
Council activities offering opportunities for the development of literacy across the
community.
Gillian MacKay
Gillian Mackay is Headteacher at Scotstoun Primary School in Glasgow, a city that
she has taught in for the past seventeen years. She has taught all stages and holds
her PGCE Primary Science and her Teaching French as a Modern Language in
Primary Schools. Before being appointed to lead Scotstoun Primary she was the
Headteacher of Wyndford and Maryhill Primary Schools. Gill was a member of the
McCabe Committee set up by the Scottish Parliament to look into the teaching of
sexual health and relationship education.
Before teaching in Primary schools, Gillian worked as an Education Officer for the
trade union MSF, and as a Training Officer for the National Union of Students. Prior
to this, Gill graduated as a Geologist and spent eight years as a research analytical
geologist running analytical laboratories at Swansea and Reading Universities.
Tommy MacKay
Professor Tommy MacKay is an educational and child psychologist. He is the author
of over 100 publications and has published in the field of literacy for the last 15 years.
Tommy is widely known as the architect of the West Dunbartonshire Literacy
Initiative, a 10-year research project which saw the authority become the first in the
world to eradicate illiteracy among school-leavers and which transformed the
landscape of reading across West Dunbartonshire.
Tommy's work has been the subject of a chapter in the Prime Minister's book,
Britain's Everyday Heroes, published in 2007, and his honours and awards include
fellowship of the British Psychological Society for an outstanding and original
contribution to psychology, an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow for
his contribution to educational psychology in Scotland, a Business Enterprise Award
21
for innovations and new applications, and national awards for challenging inequality
of opportunity and for distinguished contributions to professional psychology.
Iain McMillan CBE
Iain McMillan is the Director of CBI Scotland. He was appointed in 1995 and has full
executive responsibility for the CBI's Scottish operations. He leads Scottish business
representation and communicates Scottish business interests in Scotland, the United
Kingdom, the European Union and beyond. He is the author and co-author of a
number of publications on public policy as it relates to the business, economic and
legislative environment.
Iain is also Chairman of The University of Strathclyde Business School's Advisory
Board, Chairman of the Industrial Mission Trust, Chairman of the Scottish North
American Business Council and a Trustee of the Teaching Awards Trust. In 2008
and 2009, he served as a member of the Commission on Scottish Devolution (the
Calman Commission).
Iain is married to Giuseppina and they have three sons. He was educated at
Bearsden Academy and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers; Fellow of
the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland; Fellow of the Association of
International Accountants; Companion of the Chartered Management Institute;
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; and Fellow of the Scottish Qualifications
Authority. In 2003, Iain was awarded the CBE for services to lifelong learning in
Scotland.
Gordon Matheson
Gordon Matheson is a senior Elected Member of Glasgow City Council. When the
Commission started its deliberations he was the Council's Executive Member for
Education and earlier this year was appointed to the post of City Treasurer.
Gordon is a graduate of both Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities and has been a
board member of a variety of organisations and institutions including the Royal
Scottish National Orchestra and the Court of Strathclyde University. He has a
professional background in both economic and personnel development and has
experience as a political lobbyist within the charitable sector.
Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin is a full-time novelist. His novella `A Cool Head', part of the Quick Reads
campaign aimed at reluctant readers and readers with literacy problems, was
published in 2009.
Gavin Reid
Gavin Reid Ph.D is an international author and educational psychologist. He was
formerly senior lecturer in educational studies at the University of Edinburgh, has
considerable experience as a classroom teacher and is the parent of a child with
special needs.
Gavin is currently Visiting Professor to the University of British Columbia in
Vancouver and is a consultant to the Center for Child Evaluation and Teaching in
Kuwait. He has lectured internationally in over fifty countries and has authored
twenty-four books on dyslexia and learning.
22
Lindsay Roy CBE
Lindsay Roy is the Member of Parliament for Glenrothes and Central Fife.
Prior to his election in November 2008, Lindsay was Rector of Inverkeithing High
School and Kirkcaldy High School and has held numerous education-related
positions including President of School Leaders Scotland (2004-2005) and Executive
Member of the International Confederation of Principals.
Graeme Waddell
Graeme Waddell is a former Business Director of Rolls-Royce Aero Repair and
Overhaul in East Kilbride. He is a product of the Rolls-Royce Management
Development Programme and his career over the past twenty years has covered
senior positions in operations management, marketing and sales, facilities
management and human resources.
Since leaving Rolls Royce in 2008, Graeme has formed his own company, Energen
Biogas, which deals in the field of renewable energy. In the public sector he is a
main board member of Scottish Enterprise, chairs the West Regional Advisory Board
and also chairs the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Board.
Graeme is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and Holds a BA and an MBA
from the University of Strathclyde.
Margaret Ward
Margaret is currently Head Teacher of Braidbar Primary School in Giffnock, a
position that she has held since 1994. Prior to this appointment, Margaret was
Depute Head and a senior teacher within the same school.
Between 2000 and 2007, Margaret served as a Part Time Associate Assessor with
HMIe and from 2004 was a member of the East Renfrewshire Team for Quality
Review of Schools.
Chris Young
Chris is a Policy Officer with Glasgow City Council who has provided research
support to the work of the Literacy Commission.
Chris joined Glasgow City Council in October 2007 following a period working as an
Associate Project Manager for a non-profit organisation in Washington, DC where he
helped to oversee the development of a major project with a national government.
He is a graduate of the University of Glasgow where he obtained his MA (Hons.) in
2005.
23
References
1 http:www.literacytrust.org.ukDatabasestatsadultstats.html
2
www.literacytrust.org.ukresearch
3
New Light on Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Scotland,
4 From Taking Stock, CBI's 2008 Education and Skills Survey.
5
From The Neale Analysis of Reading Ability, Revised British Edition. Used
with permission of Granada Learning.
6 In terms of writing, the appropriate level falls somewhere between the
following two examples of pupils' work, the first is a Personal Account at 5-14
level C.
I went to Falkirk one day and I was walking along the High Street by Asda and
I tripped over a brick and split my head. I was crying and mum took me to the
hospital I was put in surgery and then I had an operashin. I was still crying
and my mum calmed me down and the people stitched my head back
together. I felt dizzy and I was glad to get out of hospital. I was happy to be
home and I was tired so I went to bed. When I was asleep I had a dream
about being in hospital. When I woke up I washed all the blood off my hands
and I was angry with myself because I was not looking were I was going.
The spelling and punctuation have been faithfully copied. The handwriting of
the original is untidy but perfectly legible.
The second example is imagined personal" - the response to a given
topiccontext at 5-14 level D.
I woke up feeling all hot and bothered. That is when I noticed the dry sand
around me. I started to panic. I opened one eye and to my horror the tide
was just touching me. I started to flap to see if I was well and truely stuck.
Unfortunately I was. I started to get so sleepy because of the heat so I fell
asleep.
The next thing I knew I was itching all over so I blew out water all over my
body to see if, it would help, it did wonders.
I opened my eyes to see a small boy staring at me as if I was some sort of
exhibit. I felt threatened by him for some reason as if he was about to hurt me
though I knew deep down in my heart that such a small boy could ^ do much
to hurt me. Then the boy did something to change my mind. He scooped up
some lovely cool water and poured it over my dry hide. It felt wonderful. I
shook my flipper to thank the boy and he layed some wet green seaweed on
my back.
I started to be much less tense towards the boy since he had helped my. A
wave lashed against my large body I began to feel a bit happyer and I knew I
wouldn't be stuck for much longer.
24
Again, the spelling and punctuation have been faithfully copied. The
handwriting of the original is clear and tidy.
7 The most local unit of Italian local government, comparable to a town
council.
8
Reynolds, S., MacKay, T. amp; Kearney, M. (in press). Nurture groups: a largescale,
controlled study of effects on development and academic attainment.
British Journal of Special Education.
9 Cowling, K. amp; Cowling, H. (1993). Toe By Toe: A Highly Structured Multi-
Sensory Reading Manual for Teachers and Parents. Baildon, West Yorks:
Printed and published by Scottish Parent Teacher Council, a Company Limited by Guarantee,
Company No SC151086, Scottish Charity No SC019168

also affects adults and
those with learning difficulties. The Commission considered these different
aspects and decided from the outset to focus its work on those children who
have the capacity to learn and develop their literacy skills but who are
currently failing to do so.
For the past 18 months, the Commission has reviewed evidence from a
variety of individuals and organisations with first hand experience of dealing
with the problem of poor literacy, and considered very closely the factors that
can contribute to this. Our report sets out eleven clear recommendations that
we believe can address the problem of poor basic literacy and, if adopted by
Scottish society, will place us in the enviable position of being the developed
world's first fully literate nation.
The membership of the Commission was drawn from a cross-section of
Scottish society and includes respected figures from the worlds of academe,
business, politics, culture and education. (For more information on members
of the Commission, please see the end of the Report.) It is sufficient here to
say that the insights, experiences and thought-provoking debate that this mix
of people produced greatly enhanced the Commission's work and I am very
grateful for the time and effort each of my Commission colleagues has
devoted to this project.
Judith Gillespie
Convener
3
Introduction: The Vision - Zero Tolerance of Illiteracy
The introduction sets out the vision for the report - zero-tolerance of illiteracy -
and sets out the problems currently facing Scotland.
This report sets out a vision which would give Scotland a position of world
leadership: zero tolerance of illiteracy. For years in Scotland, as in other
nations across the world, we have tolerated the intolerable. We have
accepted a situation in which thousands of our young people leave school
every year with correctable problems that leave them functionally illiterate -
that is, without the basic literacy skills to function in a modern society.
The Commission was set up in response to concerns about the persistence of
very low levels of literacy among a significant minority of Scottish school
leavers. From the outset the Commission acknowledged that there is a very
small number of children for whom basic literacy is an unachievable objective
because of physiological factors or severe learning difficulties. The focus of
this report is not on these problems, important as they are, but on the issue of
low achievement among those youngsters at school for whom there is no
apparent barrier to acquiring adequate literacy skills.
The consequence of this failure is shown in the number of adults in Scotland
without such skills. The available evidence suggests the total may be
approaching a million. Not only does this represent a vast economic cost to
our society, it also constitutes an unacceptable social cost in terms of quality
of life and well-being, the more so as the steps that are required to ensure
that every young person becomes literate prior to leaving school are already
established in research and practice. But, the vision cannot be fulfilled
nationally unless there is total commitment to a zero tolerance policy and the
actions necessary to achieve this.
However, this is only the starting point because, although acquisition of the
basic skills of literacy is absolutely essential, it is not a sufficient definition of a
fully literate nation.
The Scope of the Problem
This section highlights the problems currently faced in the UK through the use
of statistical evidence and compares this with evidence from abroad.
UK Data
There is no nationalofficial measure of how many children are going through
the school system without acquiring basic literacy skills but, using what
information is available, a good estimate would be that in Scotland 18.5%
leave primary school without being functionally literate - some 13,000
youngsters a year at current population levels. However, there is
considerable local variation with a range of between 10% and 26% correlating
to different levels of socio-economic disadvantage.
4
Primary and early secondary national test scores are another source of
evidence and, whilst these are not immune to question, when aggregated to
local authority level, some significance can be attached to them. In relation to
both reading and writing, the proportion of children failing to achieve the
expected standards, as defined in the 5 - 14 programme, varies enormously.
For example, by the age of 14, the percentage of children not achieving level
E in reading in 2008 exceeded 20% in two authorities, ranged between 10%
and 19% in six others, and was reported as 0% in 14 authorities, although it
is not clear what this "0%" means. Figures relating to writing were less
satisfactory. Only in 3 areas were all children said to have achieved the
expected standard while, in 2 areas, half the children did not and, in a further
6, at least 30% fell below the expected level.
Levels of success in national tests broadly follow socio-economic factors with
poorer areas faring badly, although a small number of partial exceptions is
evident. However, many youngsters do not overcome their lack of literacy
skill in secondary school and, taking the more objective SQA performance of
general educational success as an indicator of literacy standards, then
exceptions disappear and achievement follows social circumstances to an
alarming degree.
There are no official national statistics on literacy levels for secondary school
leavers, and those that exist are hard to interpret, but an indication of the
scale and impact of the problem across the United Kingdom can be found in
statistics on adult literacy presented by the National Literacy Trust1. In
England, the 2003 "Skills for Life" survey found that 5.2 million adults (or 16%
of the 16-65 population) had literacy levels at or below `Entry Level 3', the
standard expected of an 11 year old child. The figure for Wales was higher at
25%. No comparable figures are given for Scotland; however a 2001 report
by the Scottish Executive indicated that 23% of the adult population may have
low literacy and numeracy skills.
International Comparisons
The Commission was interested to know how reading standards in Scotland
compare with other countries but found this surprisingly difficult to establish.
There is no answer that can be regarded as truly authoritative.
There are currently two major international surveys that cover standards in
literacy - Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and
Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Both have the
merit of being repeated at regular intervals but the findings are open to
question, with the tests more attuned to the cultures of some countries than
others. However, these international comparisons do give valuable
information and at least an indication of standards of performance.
Whilst Scotland did well in both the 2000 and 2003 PISA studies, Scottish
performance in the 2006 study was less encouraging and was not much
above the average (499 points against an average of 492). Five countries
(Canada, Finland, Ireland, Korea and New Zealand) did better and a further
14 (including England) performed at much the same level.
5
The PIRLS study showed a similar decline; in 2006 Scotland was ranked 26th
out of 45, compared with 14th in the previous study. The international
evidence, despite problems of interpretation arising from the definition of
literacy and the attainment measures used, does not support the idea that
Scotland is a world leader. Furthermore, there is a worrying suggestion in
both PISA and PIRLS that other countries may be progressing faster than
Scotland.
The Impact of Poor Literacy
This section sets out the impact of poor literacy on individuals and society,
drawing upon the findings of a CBI report into the impact of low readingwriting
skills.
Poor literacy levels matter because they have an impact both on individuals
and on society. A very powerful report by the National Literacy Trust
(September 2008), which pulls together existing research about the
relationship between literacy and five areas of life: economic status,
aspirations, family life, health and civiccultural engagement, highlights not
just the impact of socio-economic factors on low literacy levels but also how
those low literacy levels, in turn, affect life chances and further exclude people
from participating in society2.
The scope and seriousness of these problems is indicated further by figures
from the Office of National Statistics which show that in the 50-65 age group,
31% of males and 40% of females have a literacy standard normally achieved
by the end of early primary years. Moreover, a Scottish Executive report in
2001 found that some 800,000 adults, of whom 500,000 were in work, had
significant literacy problems, whilst a subsequent report in 20083 revealed that
39% of men and 36% of women of working age had literacy abilities at a level
that was likely to impact on their employment and life chances.
The view from employers is shown in a CBI survey on the impact of
illiteracypoor readingwriting skills in the work place4. This gave evidence
(see below) that the major concern about literacy, shared by 72% of
respondents, was the quality of written English - constructing properly spelt
sentences with accurate grammar. Moreover, this concern applied to
graduates as well as to school leavers.
Leading areas of concern.
Area of concern % of respondents
Constructing properly spelt,
grammatically correct writing
72
More complex literacy tasks 46
Understanding oral communication
and articulating a clear response
39
Reading and understanding basic
texts
32
6
It is clear that many of the concerns identified relate to higher levels of skill
than basic decoding. This accords with the Commission's opinion that literacy
is a continuum with significant points relating to key skill levels at different
stages along it. This view does not minimise the importance of ensuring that
all children attain basic literacy skills as timeously as possible, but it does
mean that they should not be left at this level. It is a purpose of education to
move youngsters as far along the continuum as possible.
Defining Basic Literacy
This section defines a level of `basic literacy' for the purposes of the report,
bearing in mind that there is no official definition of literacy and recognising
that the simple process of decoding is insufficient by itself.
The Commission spent some time discussing what constituted a basic level of
literacy and what this enabled someone to do. Although the Scottish
Government is keen to emphasise that literacy is central to Curriculum for
Excellence (CfE) and that every teacher is to become a teacher of literacy,
there is no official definition. In 2008, in answer to a Parliamentary Question,
the Minister for Schools and Skills confirmed that "The Scottish Government
does not have a definition of functional literacy".
In fact, literacy is a very complex concept, involving, at a more advanced
level, a range of higher order skills such as critical thinking, creative writing,
appraising style or detecting bias, and this complex view - that literacy is a
continuum, covering advanced skills as well as basic - is the one laid out in
the CfE Experiences and Outcomes. At its most basic level, literacy crucially
involves competence in readingdecoding (defined as the process of deriving
meaning from systematised graphic shapes) and in writing. The realisation
that text conveys meaning is itself an important skill and one that only has to
be learnt once. However, basic skills of decoding and writing are, on their
own, not sufficient to enable someone to function in adult society and the
Commission felt that it was this ability (to function in an adult society) that
should be used to define "basic literacy". In West Dunbartonshire, the age
standard identified as delivering this was 9 years 6 months which is illustrated
in the reading example below.
Text of Level 4 reading passage
Jan buckled on her diving belt of metal weights and dropped from the launch.
Skipper Kells supervised her air-hose to prevent tangling. Leo, following the
bubbles, guided the dinghy above the diver as she searched the mysterious
underwater world.
Jan surfaced frequently, clutching crayfish. The required number of
specimens was almost obtained when the grey nurse shark advanced directly
towards her. Jan retreated cautiously without signalling for assistance. The
creature brushed by, ignoring her, as baby sharks emerged from some rocky
grooves. Their welfare was more important to the shark than the diver's now
motionless figure. 5
7
Anyone mastering this stage should be able to read the passage aloud,
following its meaning with few errors in accuracy. It equates to a midpoint
between levels C and D in the 5-14 programme and the beginning of stage 2
in Curriculum for Excellence. It provides an adequate level of literacy to start
engaging with the secondary school curriculum, complete a basic form, read a
tabloid newspaper and function at a basic level in society; it is an important
staging post on the literacy continuum. However, it would not allow a
youngster to complete the secondary curriculum or function at a higher level
in society and should not be regarded as the end point. (For comparable
examples of writing, see footnote 6.)
Social and Economic Disadvantage
These paragraphs define socio-economic disadvantage as the most important
cause of correctable poor literacy and describes the negative effects that this
has on the life chances and achievement of children.
In order to find an appropriate solution to the problem of poor literacy levels, it
is necessary to look at causes. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that,
whilst other factors have a modest impact, the most important cause of
correctable poor literacy is socio-economic disadvantage. Figures given
earlier in the report show that, whether the measure used is National Test
scores or the more objective SQA results, children in less affluent areas tend
to be less successful. While individuals may defy this trend, no school in a
deprived neighbourhood is able to record a similar level of success to that
achieved by almost all schools in the most affluent areas. It is evident that
socio-economic circumstances continue to outweigh other factors such as
quality of teaching, a point made forcibly by the OECD 2007 report Quality
and Equity of Schooling in Scotland - "Not all schools work equally well in
Scotland. But the gaps between them are far less important than differences
between students. In Scotland, who you are is far more important than what
school you attend".
Material disadvantage can have a simple and direct effect on educational
opportunity. Housing is more likely to be crowded with no quiet place for
study. Families are often unable to afford the trips and other experiences that
enrich the developing mind. Lack of money can be an important factor in
deciding whether a child has to leave school at 16 or is able to continue
further. However, less obvious effects of socio-economic circumstances are
even more influential and, as is now widely recognised, cumulative. The
same groups suffer from poorer health, less adequate housing, exposure to
crime and violence and lower chances of educational success. These
disadvantages are not merely correlated, they are causally related. The Chief
Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr. Harry Burns, has recently presented
research which offers persuasive arguments that a child's whole
circumstances affect life-chances in a way that is generally decisive.
Medical evidence suggests that disadvantage has a physiological impact on
the human body that not only makes children more liable to disease and early
death but also inhibits their brain development and makes them less able to
8
learn. It is widely recognised that children who experience chaotic family
circumstances or who do not receive the appropriate responses to cries of
discomfort or smiles of happiness experience problems in their development.
If these are not redressed early, they may have lasting consequences
because the first few years of a child's life are when many key stages in brain
development happen. Such children are not only likely to make a poor start in
education but also rapidly fall further behind. Moreover, the disadvantage is
generally long-lasting, impairing their capacity to make progress at later
stages.
Disadvantage in this extreme form is illustrated by evidence from Glasgow. In
one P67 class, 21 out of 24 children had faced severe problems in their lives
including drugalcohol abuse by a parent, family death and violence. More
generally, some children arrive at nursery at the age of three or even four with
barely any language and poorly developed social and motor skills. It is selfevident
that such children lack the prior experiences that would equip them to
learn.
A particularly vulnerable group are children looked after by local authorities,
both in children's homes and in their own homes. The overall number has
doubled in most local authorities over the past four years, largely because of
social problems such as parental drugalcohol abuse and domestic violence.
Often, the focus on education takes second place to their more immediate
social and behavioural needs. Many, through no fault of their own, have
become disengaged from mainstream schooling, suffer from complex needs
and are well known to a variety of different support services, such as social
work.
However, the effects of disadvantage are more widespread than even these
examples might suggest. The statistical evidence cited earlier indicates
clearly that, even if children have supportive and loving families, socioeconomic
disadvantage will severely reduce their likelihood of success.
The reasons for this have received less attention than they merit. However, it
seems clear that the awareness of living at a low point in a social hierarchy is
itself very damaging. It is liable to reduce self-esteem, morale and motivation.
Meanwhile, being excluded from the culture and discourse of more privileged
groups may reduce competence in activities that are socially and
educationally valued. There is again medical evidence that such exclusion
increases stress and precipitates a number of potentially damaging
physiological responses.
Furthermore, so pervasive is the effect of disadvantage that it tends to
subsume other factors. In recent years girls have out-performed boys in most
aspects of school work (although not in later success in life). Theories have
been developed indicating that sedentary literacy-based activities better suit
girls' preferred styles of learning. Although there is truth in such views, it is
even more significant that changes in society have left traditional male manual
employment highly marginalised. The result is a merging of gender-related
factors with the more powerful issue of disadvantage. Such a view is
supported by a variety of evidence, including from the Clackmannanshire
project (see Page 13 et seq), that gender differences can be substantially
9
reduced or even eliminated by well-conceived and systematic policies
combined with sound teaching.
Experiences of the Past
This section points out that there has been no `golden age' of literacy and to
exemplify this draws on the school experiences of adults presently engaged in
adult literacy schemes.
There is no evidence to suggest that there has ever been some literacy
"golden age" and figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal higher
levels of poor literacy among the 50-65 age group than the 16-24 age group.
The Commission itself considered evidence from adults who were
participating in adult literacy and numeracy schemes. Personal reflections by
this group identified the following as impediments to learning:-
- Missing school - often because of problems at home - resulted in learning
gaps that were hard to make up. Youngsters then lost confidence in their
ability to learn.
- Learning difficulties that were not identified early enough
- A lack of appropriate and sustained help as and when it was needed
- Their own behaviour e.g. being easily distracted andor truanting
- Parents who did not push them to learnstay on task
- A learning-support curriculum that did not match the classroom curriculum
- Confidence undermined by being removed from the class (and separated
from friends) for learning-support.
It is noteworthy that this group identified personal failure - either their own or
others in terms of the lack of support they received - as the cause of their
problem and appeared to be largely unaware of systemic problems arising
from their social and economic circumstances.
English as an Additional Language (EAL)
This section does not claim EAL to be a factor in poor literacy but identifies
findings from a report on EAL teaching that identified the issues associated
with helping children with poorly-developed English language skills and the
importance of wider community support.
The Commission took time to consider English as an Additional Language
(EAL). It is not itself a factor in poor literacy - indeed a number of Glasgow
schools with a high percentage of asylum seeker or recently arrived children
for whom English is not their first language are out-performing other local
schools. However, a report on EAL teaching provided some very instructive
insight into both the problems of helping youngsters with poorly-developed
English language skills and the importance of community support.
It is clear that the concept of decoding is a bit like riding a bike - once a
youngster has learnt that reading a written script is possible, this awareness
10
can be transferred from language to language even when the "graphic
shapes" used are quite different e.g. from Chinese to English.
It is necessary for someone to have language to think in before they can read.
In the EAL setting this means that it is more important for parents to develop a
child's use of their own language than teach himher English, if the parents'
own English language is limited. Moreover, there is a need to overcome
potential difficulties arising from a mismatch between the cultures of the
learners (whether EAL or those from socio-economically disadvantaged
areas) and the education they receive.
The Role of Testing
This section identifies the Commission's view on testing as having two
purposes; to certify student progress and to identify struggling schoolchildren.
The Commission considered the current focus on testing for literacy and a
proposal within Curriculum for Excellence that all youngsters should acquire a
formal qualification, establishing their literacy level, in their third year of
secondary school. For its part, the Commission recognised the value and use
of testing and saw it as having two particular purposes - certification and
diagnosis. Testing highlights the importance of the area to be tested - in this
case, literacy. It gives evidence of standards to employers and those in more
advanced levels of education. It provides baseline data which are useful for
establishing what is happening in Scotland and for showing how achievement
has changed over time. It is also important as a means of holding those
responsible for education to account for what they deliver.
However, the Commission sees that a central purpose of testing is to provide
diagnostic information about students who are struggling, and for working out
what steps should be taken to help them progress. The methodology and
timing of such tests are crucial for identifying the scale of literacy difficulties.
Such tests do not have to be applied to all youngsters but can be used in an
increasingly focused way to help those who have been identified as having
problems.
Improving Literacy - the Evidence
i) Addressing the Consequences of Social and Economic Disadvantage
At this point, the report identifies the need to begin addressing socioeconomic
disadvantage from an early-age and also draws on evidence from
local government in Italy.
The medical evidence on the impact of very early experience on brain
development and the consequences of disadvantage would indicate that
redress has to begin from birth or, indeed, before. The quality of antenatal
care and the behaviour of women during pregnancy have far-reaching
consequences for children but do not fall within the Commission's remit, which
was concerned with the years after birth. However, this should in no way
11
detract from the considerable importance of providing quality services in the
earliest years.
In terms of the very young, the best developed services are to be found in
northern Italy, particularly in those commune7 that have been influenced by
the pioneering work in Reggio Emilia over a period of more than forty years.
In San Miniato, for example, over 40% of very young children between birth
and the age of three receive one of a variety of education and care services,
such as attending a nido or nursery for the very young, run by the commune.
A common feature of these services is direct support to parents (including
many fathers) to help them feel more confident and competent in supporting
their children. San Miniato's services, all paid for through local taxes with
means-tested contributions from parents, express the notion of support by the
whole community for families in the task of raising children.
Thus, building family capacity has to be a central feature of any systematic
attempt to redress the cultural disadvantage that some young children
otherwise encounter from the outset of formal education. Children coming
from homes where conversation centres on ideas and where adults
demonstrate by their habits that literacy is valued, arrive at school equipped to
benefit from what teachers have to offer. It is as if they already have the
outline of a mental jigsaw in place. When the teacher offers a new piece, they
can see where it fits; it becomes meaningful and memorable. Unless steps
are taken to counteract cultural disadvantage, many other children,
particularly those who are looked after by local authorities, will never build
their mental jigsaws. New learning will have nowhere to fit in and will be
quickly forgotten.
In the UK, increasing understanding of the importance of the early years
(together with a desire to give mothers easier access to the labour market)
has led to a huge expansion in services for pre-school children. In the late
1990s public money was invested on a massive scale in a variety of public
and private nursery provision.
However, these new services were devoted almost entirely to the 3-5 agegroup
and provision for younger children was very modest. But, by the age of
three the most prolific stage of brain development has been completed and a
child's environment in terms of the ethos of the family and local community
will already have had a significant and lasting effect.
This is not an argument to do nothing because a child's fate is determined by
the age of three. Services for the young that directly enrich the experience of
children, whilst not a substitute for what the parents can offer, can go a
considerable way towards alleviating disadvantage. So, mindful of the
evidence on poverty, including much from Glasgow, and of the importance of
building support within the child's home and community, the Commission was
very interested to learn of the success of nurture groups, an early years'
programme that takes youngsters from the most problematic backgrounds
and places them in small groups with a specially trained teacher and support
staff. The emphasis is on providing care for the children, and on developing
their social and emotional skills. The groups work closely with the parents to
help them understand how they in turn might better support their children's
12
development. A recent research evaluation of the nurture groups8 found not
only that they were successful in their original purpose, but that they have
also raised the attainment levels of the children involved.
In the very early years, formal education is of no relevance. The important
action is to build the preconditions for later learning. Good services for the
youngest age group bring together health, care and education in a seamless
way. Effective support for potentially disadvantaged children requires a
continuity that is currently not offered and a focus on the whole family and the
whole process of development. In this way a basis is laid for success in later
learning including acquisition of the fundamental learning skill of literacy.
In terms of looked-after children, there are examples of successful practice
across the country. For example, in West Lothian, a multi-agency approach
has helped to raise achievement by focusing on the educational, social and
health needs of the children. For older children, Glasgow's Enhanced
Vocational Inclusion Programme (EVIP) has provided looked-after children
with an alternative to mainstream schooling. The programme is designed to
allow the children and young people the chance to study a vocational
qualification while at the same time developing core life skills.
ii) Successful Action - Evidence from School Projects
This section highlights four features of successful literacy schemes adopted
after 1997 and also describes further evidence from adult learners.
Within the school context, there is a lot of evidence on how to overcome
literacy problems through focused teaching. From its inception, the
Commission has attracted a lot of information from individuals and
groupsorganisations who have developed successful schemes for teaching
literacy. Indeed, in 1997 Scotland itself was as close to a complete
commitment to literacy-for-all as it has ever been. The Early Years' Initiative
was a national policy that both required and allowed the 32 authorities to
develop their own schemes. However, although the scheme was generously
funded by central government, only some of the projects were really
successful, demonstrating that whilst having the necessary resources for any
programme is important, resources alone are not a sufficient guarantee of
success. In order to understand how to overcome the problem of poor
literacy, it is helpful to look more closely at the key features in those
programmes that peer-reviewed research has shown did succeed.
1) National Leadership
Successive Governments have made literacy a priority and provided funding
but there has been a lack of consistency and constancy. To be successful, a
zero-tolerance literacy policy has to be adopted for the long term. However,
whilst leadership from the top is important, this has to be balanced by the
essential ingredients of local ownership, differentiation and commitment.
There needs to be commitment at every level from First Minister, through
Council leaders, educational directorate, head teachers and all parties
including teachers, volunteers, parents and pupils. The West Dunbartonshire
project, which has lasted 12 years to date, was supported by such
commitment so that it survived several changes of Director of Education,
13
three changes of the education officer responsible for the project, three
changes of project leader, 90% change of staff in the specialist early
intervention team and several changes of Council Leader, accompanied at
times by changes in the political balance of power in the Council.
2) Starting Early with Formal Literacy
In order to address the problems that youngsters bring to school, whether in
terms of social disadvantage or learning difficulties, it is necessary to start
literacy programmes from a very early age. This was true of successful Early
Years' Initiative projects. In Clackmannanshire, the Synthetic Phonics
experiment began with a cohort of children at the P1 level and followed them
through the course of their primary education. In West Dunbartonshire,
children were targeted from pre-school age and support has continued into
the secondary stage. A recently completed pilot writing project in North
Lanarkshire similarly focused on children in the early years of primary school.
In line with comments from some adult returners, that they had addressed
their own literacy problems when faced with helping their children, the
Commission noted the impact (sometimes unexpected) that the literacy
initiatives had on the parents of children involved. For example, there were
cases in West Dunbartonshire where parents at parents' evenings confided to
teachers that they had reading difficulties. Education officials in North
Lanarkshire also reported similar situations, and in both cases the authorities
in question were able to provide advice and direct parents to support
structures. Overcoming poor literacy cannot be left solely to schools.
Success also depends on support and commitment from the home and
community. Picking up on this aspect, a new and as yet unreviewed project in
Glasgow places an emphasis on literacy across generations in a continuum
from early-years to the workplace and the wider community.
3) Teaching Approaches - Careful Monitoring and Continuous
Professional Development (CPD)
All successful schemes have relied heavily on synthetic phonics but have
used a variety of approaches to ensure that the necessary measures of
literacy were available at the right time for children experiencing difficulties.
The requirement to switch approaches as appropriate means it is necessary
and important to use diagnostic tests to identify the exact position of every
child vulnerable to reading failure, and to monitor the progress of all children.
It also means that good CPD is an essential element of any successful
programme, as it develops teachers' skills, puts the teacher in charge and so
helps build the necessary commitment at school level. If a project is to
maximise its potential, there needs to be evidence of professional buy-in for
its aims and objectives at the local level. While government may choose to
direct funding to advance a particular vision or strategy, successful projects
tend to be those that have been formulated at a local level, giving teachers
and education officials maximum input into designing and implementing a
project. If teachers are made to feel as though they are supporting a remote
reform agenda, then these projects are the most likely to fail.
14
4) Intervention Strategies
For some youngsters good teaching is not enough. Intensive support is
necessary if they are to make progress, and there are a number of readingrecovery
support schemes that have been developed. However, some of
these are dedicated programmes which take the child out of school, often
isolate the pupil from hisher peers and are expensive. It is more inclusive
and less expensive to run in-school schemes. West Dunbartonshire's project
aimed to ensure that no child was left behind, using initiatives such as
intensive daily one-to-one work with children and the "Toe By Toe"
programme9 which intervened with children who were clearly still struggling
further up primary school. The Clackmannanshire project similarly provided
rigorous pupil monitoring and intervention where required through catch-up
groups and homework clubs.
What Needs to be Done - the Views of Adult Learners
The adult returners who identified impediments to their learning were also
quite clear about what they felt would have made a difference. It was
noteworthy that the steps that they identified as being desirablenecessary
matched very closely the steps taken in the school projects that were studied:-
- Better identification of learning difficulties
- Early intervention so that youngsters do not fall behind
- Necessary help in terms of more time for explanation, more reinforcing of
explanations and more effort by the teacher to ensure that real
understanding has taken place
- One-to one help when necessary
- Involving parents and supporting them (A number of the adults reported
that they had got involved in literacy programmes to help their own
children's learning and that their classes had then helped them understand
their children's difficulties.)
- More pressure on youngsters to attend school and to keep on task -
youngsters should not be just left to get on with things.
- Motivation - youngsters should be helped to understand why reading
matters and their interest encouraged by good reading material at the
appropriate level.
- The learning support curriculum should match the regular curriculum so
that youngsters can keep in step with their peers.
Moving Beyond Basic Literacy
In this section, the report highlights the need to move children beyond a basic
level of literacy in order that they can fully engage with modern society and the
workplace.
As indicated earlier, the Commission agreed from the outset that literacy is a
continuum that extends beyond basic literacy skills. Different levels of literacy
are needed; for example, for undertaking a modern apprenticeship, for most
jobs (SCQF level 5) and for Further and Higher Education. In this age of
information overload via the Internet, it is important that all youngsters are
equipped with analytical skills so that they can understand not just the
15
information that is provided but also its validity. Did the author of the
information have a vested interest in persuading the reader of a particular
version of the truth? Literacy is also not the sole responsibility of local
authorities and schools. Literacy should go beyond the remit of formal
education and become embedded across society in order to ensure
continuous development. Partnership working, involving the public, private
and voluntary sectors, is key if poor literacy across society is to be
challenged.
In looking at how youngsters can be helped to move beyond basic literacy,
the Commission began by considering the significant number of young people
who acquire basic skills of decoding but do not go on to become independent
readers. Indeed, in some cases, skills are gradually lost and youngsters
become, at best, reluctant and marginally competent readers. Why do some
children not progress beyond early literacy skills and what can be done to
help them?
On a totally practical level, it is important to ensure that the reading material
offered to reluctant readers matches their interests and maturity. On this
score, Project X, which has just been launched in England, provides an
interesting example. It uses the "playstation approach" to attract boys in
particular to reading. A recent parent-led research project in Aberdeen
identified the Guinness Book of Records and comics as items that kept
children reading. Schools must not be prescriptive in what constitutes
suitable reading material and should accept what interests the child whilst
trying to move on to more ambitious material.
However, one of the most significant facts to emerge from the evaluation of
the Clackmannanshire literacy project related to a loss of impetus somewhere
around the middle of primary schooling. Whereas in P1-3 almost all of the
traditional differences in attainment between girls and boys and between
schools with socially different catchment area disappeared, by P7 socioeconomic
disadvantage had begun to reassert itself, although overall
standards remained higher and gender differences lower than before.
It is reasonable to conclude that, as the element of comprehension becomes
more significant than the mechanical skill of decoding, cultural and
environmental factors begin to impede the progress of some learners,
especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. If these children are to
build on their early success in the acquisition of basic literacy skills, these
factors must be tackled.
Returning to the correlation of educational failure and socio-economic
disadvantage, there is no instance in Scotland of a school serving a poor
neighbourhood and achieving results comparable to those of schools in the
most affluent areas. Moreover, as has already been indicated, a child's early
experience of life largely determines the speed and accuracy with which they
form fundamental concepts. If the framework is well-developed, the child is
better able to integrate into it the new information and ideas that the school
presents. Early experience relevant to the processes of school learning
constitutes an overwhelming advantage. This is why the Commission places
such emphasis on supporting parents and redressing the effects of social and
16
economic disadvantage at an early stage. But there is also a need for
schools to increase their efforts to enrich the experience of children from
disadvantaged backgrounds and for government to adopt a similar approach
to the problem of stalled or regressing literacy as was adopted for early
stages around ten years ago.
Finally, turning to the issue of how to develop higher literacy skills, it is
important to define what those skills are. The CfE Experiences and
Outcomes take us part of the way. Skills, such as organising information,
distinguishing fact from opinion and summarising, are mentioned and could
contribute to an approach to higher literacy based on progression in skills.
Communicating at an advanced level through the written word is heavily
dependent on skills such as these. However, their use is by no means
confined to traditional printed media. At this level, the development of
literacy-related skills merges into a more general form of intellectual
development.
If young people are to develop these higher-order intellectual skills, it is crucial
that they are explicitly taught. Young people should be made aware at the
outset what skills they are going to acquire and why they are important. At
the conclusion of any unit of work, they should be reminded of what they have
learned and be made aware of its application. This element of metacognition
is a crucial part of sound learning at any level. It is no less significant when
dealing with learning at an advanced level.
It is important that the skill is seen as being of widespread application. The
ability to use knowledge, understanding and skills in areas other than the one
in which they were acquired is essential. In some highly specialised areas of
learning, skills may be needed for very specific purposes and have few
applications in other contexts. The higher-order skills, like analysis and
critical thinking, which are associated with advanced literacy, are not like this;
they have everyday significance in much the same way as basic decoding.
They are the transferable skills of the 21st century.
It may seem a long journey from the earliest stages of familiarity with letters to
the application of critical understanding at advanced levels but, as has been
stated, all literacy-related skills are part of a continuum. Schools have the
task of trying to ensure that every young person progresses as far along it as
possible. An effective national strategy for literacy must take this as its
objective.
Recommendations
If the problems of poor basic literacy are to be addressed, there has to be a
recognition that socio-economic issues are the main underlying cause and
there need to be programmes that focus on addressing these problems. As
the report by the National Literacy Trust makes clear, only in this way will it be
possible to create a virtuous upward spiral that enables everyone to
participate in the literate society and lifts people out of disadvantage. This
leads us to make the following clear recommendations.
17
The Commitment
1. As a nation, Scotland should make a formal commitment to zero
tolerance of illiteracy.
2. There should be a sustained policy commitment from all levels of
government and educational management to address the issue of
improving standards of literacy at all levels.
3. A focus for local authorities should be to ensure that best practice is
shared in order to develop consistent, effective, multi-agency strategies
that meet the emotional as well as literacy needs of the children in their
care.
4. The allocation of education resources should reflect the priority of
improving literacy levels.
Pre-requisites for Learning
5. There should be a focus on early years to address the negative effects of
socio-economic disadvantage on learning. This should include:-
a. Pilot schemes in a number of local authorities serving areas of
socio-economic disadvantage to provide continuous and
systematic support for families with children in the birth-to-three
age group
b. Local authorities, as corporate parents, taking responsibility for a
more holistic approach to ensure that the very specific
educational, behavioural and social needs of looked-after children
are properly addressed
c. Systematic support for parents in assisting their children's early
learning
d. Sustained efforts by nurseries and schools to enrich the life
experience of children from disadvantaged circumstances
e. Use of nurture groups in primary schools in areas of disadvantage
f. Professional development to support these initiatives including the
necessary changes to Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and
subsequent CPD
Acquiring Basic Skills
6. Within the context of an overall national strategy, each local authority
and every school should develop local literacy plans suited to their
individual circumstances. These plans should involve:-
a. Systematic and supportive monitoring of outcomes both by HMIe
and by local authorities
b. Modification of policy and practice in the light of the findings
c. A commitment to effective and appropriate action to support every
individual child at every stage of learning.
7. Successful schemes should involve the following elements:-
a. Commencement at an early age
b. Reliance on a highly structured phonics programme (normally
involving synthetic phonics) as the approach to getting the great
majority of children decoding successfully
18
c. Use of a range of other approaches to tackle cases of difficulty up
to and including intensive individual tuition for children who
continue to experience significant reading problems
d. Programmes of high quality professional development, regularly
updated and consistently available.
Beyond Basic Skills
8. A national strategy should set priorities for assisting children to move
beyond basic literacy by improving standards of comprehension and
higher-order literacy skills. This strategy should be informed by research
and by good practice.
9. Within the national strategy each local authority should develop a local
scheme in the same way as was done after 1997 in relation to basic
literacy.
10. Progress of local schemes should be carefully monitored and good
practice shared in a systematic process of continuous improvement and
professional development.
11. Raising levels of higher-order literacy-related skills should be a priority
objective within the Curriculum for Excellence development programme.
19
Commission Membership
Judith Gillespie (Chair)
Judith Gillespie first became actively involved in Scottish Education during the
teachers' strike in 1985. Since then, she has been constantly involved both at
national and local authority level. In 1989 she became a Director of the Scottish
Parent Teacher Council, moving on to become its Convener and then Development
Manager, a post she currently holds.
Judith was a Director of Moray House at the time of its merger with Edinburgh
University and, from 2001 to June 2009, on the Board of the Scottish Qualifications
Authority. She has served on numerous Government committees, including the
Higher Still Development Group and the Curriculum Review Group. As a
spokesperson for parents, Judith has frequently contributed to radio and television
programmes, written letters and articles for the press and contributed to a number of
educational publications.
Keir Bloomer
Keir Bloomer is an independent education consultant. He is also Chair of the
Tapestry Partnership, Vice-convenor of Children in Scotland and Vice-Chair of the
Court of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.
Between 2000 and 2007, he served as Chief Executive of Clackmannanshire Council
and prior to this, served as the Director of Education and Community Services for the
authority.
He was a member of the review group which wrote "A Curriculum for Excellence",
Scotland's national curriculum policy statement, and at various times during his
career has served as the Vice-Chair of Learning and Teaching Scotland, Depute
General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland and a member of the
General Teaching Council.
He is well-known in Scotland as a speaker and writer on a wide variety of educational
topics.
Geraldine Gammell
Geraldine Gammell is the Director of the Prince's Trust in Scotland, the youth charity
which helps young people get their lives on track and move into education,
employment and training.
She is a Chartered Accountant by trade and an English Literature graduate from
Glasgow University.
John Loughton
Born in Edinburgh, John is the youngest member of the Commission and studied at
the University of Stirling. A committed champion for young people's rights, John has
been extremely active at a local, national and international level to safeguard and
ensure young people's voices and ideas are central to the political process as well as
across society. At 19, John was elected as the chairman of the Scottish Youth
Parliament and during this time was also appointed as Vice Convener of the Scottish
Parliament's Cross Party Group on Children and Young People, a Board Director for
20
YouthLink Scotland, the national youth work agency, and represented young people
across the United Kingdom at a number of international platforms such as the UK
European Presidency Summit.
In January 2008, John appeared on and won the reality TV show Big Brother:
Celebrity Hijack where he aimed to spread a positive message of young people and
promoted a number of important campaigns affecting young people.
John also served as a member of the Commission on Scottish Devolution (Calman
Commission) and currently works as a Policy Manager and lobbyist for a national
voluntary organisation.
Donald MacKay
Donald MacKay is the Director of Education and Communities with Midlothian
Council.
His teaching career began in 1971 and following spells as an Assistant Headteacher
and Headteacher became Curriculum Development Officer for Fife Council. Donald's
subsequent career accomplishments as an adviser in Primary Education and
Assistant Director of Education with Lothian Council led to his appointment in 1995
as Director of Education with Midlothian Council.
In his current remit, Donald is responsible for bringing together a wide range of
Council activities offering opportunities for the development of literacy across the
community.
Gillian MacKay
Gillian Mackay is Headteacher at Scotstoun Primary School in Glasgow, a city that
she has taught in for the past seventeen years. She has taught all stages and holds
her PGCE Primary Science and her Teaching French as a Modern Language in
Primary Schools. Before being appointed to lead Scotstoun Primary she was the
Headteacher of Wyndford and Maryhill Primary Schools. Gill was a member of the
McCabe Committee set up by the Scottish Parliament to look into the teaching of
sexual health and relationship education.
Before teaching in Primary schools, Gillian worked as an Education Officer for the
trade union MSF, and as a Training Officer for the National Union of Students. Prior
to this, Gill graduated as a Geologist and spent eight years as a research analytical
geologist running analytical laboratories at Swansea and Reading Universities.
Tommy MacKay
Professor Tommy MacKay is an educational and child psychologist. He is the author
of over 100 publications and has published in the field of literacy for the last 15 years.
Tommy is widely known as the architect of the West Dunbartonshire Literacy
Initiative, a 10-year research project which saw the authority become the first in the
world to eradicate illiteracy among school-leavers and which transformed the
landscape of reading across West Dunbartonshire.
Tommy's work has been the subject of a chapter in the Prime Minister's book,
Britain's Everyday Heroes, published in 2007, and his honours and awards include
fellowship of the British Psychological Society for an outstanding and original
contribution to psychology, an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow for
his contribution to educational psychology in Scotland, a Business Enterprise Award
21
for innovations and new applications, and national awards for challenging inequality
of opportunity and for distinguished contributions to professional psychology.
Iain McMillan CBE
Iain McMillan is the Director of CBI Scotland. He was appointed in 1995 and has full
executive responsibility for the CBI's Scottish operations. He leads Scottish business
representation and communicates Scottish business interests in Scotland, the United
Kingdom, the European Union and beyond. He is the author and co-author of a
number of publications on public policy as it relates to the business, economic and
legislative environment.
Iain is also Chairman of The University of Strathclyde Business School's Advisory
Board, Chairman of the Industrial Mission Trust, Chairman of the Scottish North
American Business Council and a Trustee of the Teaching Awards Trust. In 2008
and 2009, he served as a member of the Commission on Scottish Devolution (the
Calman Commission).
Iain is married to Giuseppina and they have three sons. He was educated at
Bearsden Academy and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers; Fellow of
the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland; Fellow of the Association of
International Accountants; Companion of the Chartered Management Institute;
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; and Fellow of the Scottish Qualifications
Authority. In 2003, Iain was awarded the CBE for services to lifelong learning in
Scotland.
Gordon Matheson
Gordon Matheson is a senior Elected Member of Glasgow City Council. When the
Commission started its deliberations he was the Council's Executive Member for
Education and earlier this year was appointed to the post of City Treasurer.
Gordon is a graduate of both Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities and has been a
board member of a variety of organisations and institutions including the Royal
Scottish National Orchestra and the Court of Strathclyde University. He has a
professional background in both economic and personnel development and has
experience as a political lobbyist within the charitable sector.
Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin is a full-time novelist. His novella `A Cool Head', part of the Quick Reads
campaign aimed at reluctant readers and readers with literacy problems, was
published in 2009.
Gavin Reid
Gavin Reid Ph.D is an international author and educational psychologist. He was
formerly senior lecturer in educational studies at the University of Edinburgh, has
considerable experience as a classroom teacher and is the parent of a child with
special needs.
Gavin is currently Visiting Professor to the University of British Columbia in
Vancouver and is a consultant to the Center for Child Evaluation and Teaching in
Kuwait. He has lectured internationally in over fifty countries and has authored
twenty-four books on dyslexia and learning.
22
Lindsay Roy CBE
Lindsay Roy is the Member of Parliament for Glenrothes and Central Fife.
Prior to his election in November 2008, Lindsay was Rector of Inverkeithing High
School and Kirkcaldy High School and has held numerous education-related
positions including President of School Leaders Scotland (2004-2005) and Executive
Member of the International Confederation of Principals.
Graeme Waddell
Graeme Waddell is a former Business Director of Rolls-Royce Aero Repair and
Overhaul in East Kilbride. He is a product of the Rolls-Royce Management
Development Programme and his career over the past twenty years has covered
senior positions in operations management, marketing and sales, facilities
management and human resources.
Since leaving Rolls Royce in 2008, Graeme has formed his own company, Energen
Biogas, which deals in the field of renewable energy. In the public sector he is a
main board member of Scottish Enterprise, chairs the West Regional Advisory Board
and also chairs the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Board.
Graeme is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and Holds a BA and an MBA
from the University of Strathclyde.
Margaret Ward
Margaret is currently Head Teacher of Braidbar Primary School in Giffnock, a
position that she has held since 1994. Prior to this appointment, Margaret was
Depute Head and a senior teacher within the same school.
Between 2000 and 2007, Margaret served as a Part Time Associate Assessor with
HMIe and from 2004 was a member of the East Renfrewshire Team for Quality
Review of Schools.
Chris Young
Chris is a Policy Officer with Glasgow City Council who has provided research
support to the work of the Literacy Commission.
Chris joined Glasgow City Council in October 2007 following a period working as an
Associate Project Manager for a non-profit organisation in Washington, DC where he
helped to oversee the development of a major project with a national government.
He is a graduate of the University of Glasgow where he obtained his MA (Hons.) in
2005.
23
References
1 http:www.literacytrust.org.ukDatabasestatsadultstats.html
2
www.literacytrust.org.ukresearch
3
New Light on Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Scotland,
4 From Taking Stock, CBI's 2008 Education and Skills Survey.
5
From The Neale Analysis of Reading Ability, Revised British Edition. Used
with permission of Granada Learning.
6 In terms of writing, the appropriate level falls somewhere between the
following two examples of pupils' work, the first is a Personal Account at 5-14
level C.
I went to Falkirk one day and I was walking along the High Street by Asda and
I tripped over a brick and split my head. I was crying and mum took me to the
hospital I was put in surgery and then I had an operashin. I was still crying
and my mum calmed me down and the people stitched my head back
together. I felt dizzy and I was glad to get out of hospital. I was happy to be
home and I was tired so I went to bed. When I was asleep I had a dream
about being in hospital. When I woke up I washed all the blood off my hands
and I was angry with myself because I was not looking were I was going.
The spelling and punctuation have been faithfully copied. The handwriting of
the original is untidy but perfectly legible.
The second example is imagined personal" - the response to a given
topiccontext at 5-14 level D.
I woke up feeling all hot and bothered. That is when I noticed the dry sand
around me. I started to panic. I opened one eye and to my horror the tide
was just touching me. I started to flap to see if I was well and truely stuck.
Unfortunately I was. I started to get so sleepy because of the heat so I fell
asleep.
The next thing I knew I was itching all over so I blew out water all over my
body to see if, it would help, it did wonders.
I opened my eyes to see a small boy staring at me as if I was some sort of
exhibit. I felt threatened by him for some reason as if he was about to hurt me
though I knew deep down in my heart that such a small boy could ^ do much
to hurt me. Then the boy did something to change my mind. He scooped up
some lovely cool water and poured it over my dry hide. It felt wonderful. I
shook my flipper to thank the boy and he layed some wet green seaweed on
my back.
I started to be much less tense towards the boy since he had helped my. A
wave lashed against my large body I began to feel a bit happyer and I knew I
wouldn't be stuck for much longer.
24
Again, the spelling and punctuation have been faithfully copied. The
handwriting of the original is clear and tidy.
7 The most local unit of Italian local government, comparable to a town
council.
8
Reynolds, S., MacKay, T. amp; Kearney, M. (in press). Nurture groups: a largescale,
controlled study of effects on development and academic attainment.
British Journal of Special Education.
9 Cowling, K. amp; Cowling, H. (1993). Toe By Toe: A Highly Structured Multi-
Sensory Reading Manual for Teachers and Parents. Baildon, West Yorks:
Printed and published by Scottish Parent Teacher Council, a Company Limited by Guarantee,
Company No SC151086, Scottish Charity No SC019168

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