Writing: the real test of literacy

27th April 2001 at 01:00
MICHAEL Barber (head of the Government's standards unit) labels critics of the literacy strategy cynics ("Cynics unfair to the literacy test", TES, April 13).

Well, I am not cynical. I am a teacher, award-winning children's author, writer for educational journals and a lecturer on literacy, in particular boys' reading and writing. But I think the strategy is inadequate. Reports such as the study published by the United Kingdom Reading Association (TES, April 6) indicate problems with the reading tests. None of Michael Barber's points rebuts the evidence. He should read the Office for Standards in Education document, The National Literacy Strategy: the second year. It says:

* attainment in writing remains low and lags far behind attainment in reading;

* resuls in writing at key stage 2 have improved by one percentage point from 54 to 55 per cent;

* more than half of boys transferring to secondary education have achieved no higher than level 3.

My argument is that a sustained, genuine improvement in reading would generate a sustained, genuine improvement in writing.

I am not decrying teachers' efforts. I am one. But rising scores in reading tests weighted towards information retrieval are a weak indicator of real improvements in literacy. Writing is a much more reliable thermometer.

Everyone wants to see more literate and confident young people. I am simply not convinced that the strategy has all the answers. A national debate is long overdue.

Alan Gibbons

13 Chatsworth Avenue, Liverpool

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