Nick Clegg pledges to end illiteracy by 2025 by ensuring every child leaves Primary School able to read

Nick Clegg has unveiled a key manifesto commitment for the Liberal Democrats this morning:

The plans mean that every child born in 2014, who will leave primary school in 2025 will be able to read and write at a standard identified to lead to success in secondary school and beyond.

Nick Clegg explained why this is so important to Liberal Democrats:

I am proud of the scale of our ambition. We are raising the bar on what children should be able to achieve by the age of eleven and want all children to get over the bar by 2025.

The Coalition Government has cut illiteracy but it is nothing short of a national scandal that a fifth of children are still leaving primary school unable to read at a level that will allow them to succeed in later life.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build a stronger economy in a fairer society where there is opportunity for everyone and the key to that is education.

It’s pretty hard to get on in life without being able to read and write, which is why the Liberal Democrats are committing to eliminating illiteracy by 2025.

We are the only party who can make this commitment because, astonishingly, we are the only party committed to protecting the education budget from cradle to college in the next five years.

In the Coalition Government, the Liberal Democrats have protected the schools budget; introduced the Pupil Premium; expanded free childcare and made sure every infant gets a free, healthy meal every day to help them learn.

Conservative plans to savage the education budget by £13bn puts all of these achievements and much, much more at risk, while Labour’s silence on this issue doesn’t fill me with confidence.

You can’t build a fairer society for free. If we want to continue raising standards in schools, and making sure every child can succeed whatever their background, you simply have to invest in education. That is exactly what the Liberal Democrats will do.

This is just one of two powerful initiatives from the party this morning. Norman Lamb has also announced an end to people in mental health crisis being locked up in prison cells.

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31 Comments

  • Nick Clegg makes a pledge about education shortly before a general election. What could possibly go wrong with that?

    On the basis of past form, what he really means to do is to treble illiteracy within three years.

  • “….The plans mean that every child born in 2014, who will leave primary school in 2025 will be able to read and write at a standard identified to lead to success in secondary school and beyond.”

    Just imagine it – in ten years time children in England will be able to read !!! Children reading as soon as 2025.

    Just imagine — if Gladstone had thought of this he would have Introduced compulsory state schooling in 1870.

    Of — hang on a second — Gladstone did do that. Am I missing something!

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jan '15 - 11:19am

    ‘ The plans mean that every child born in 2014, who will leave primary school in 2025 will be able to read and write at a standard identified to lead to success in secondary school and beyond.’

    All very well but the idea that every child will attain Level 4 in reading and writing by the end of primary is pie in the sky. David Laws has said he wants more children to achieve this level because it makes it more likely – according to the statistics – that they will attain five or more GCSEs at secondary level. So throw more money at the target and no doubt more children will gain the requisite cognitive abilities – so it is thought by those at the centre.

    I look forward to seeing David Laws teach less able/special needs children for a term and then hear from him how easy it is to move these children to level four.

    This policy sounds noble but is wholly unrealistic. I would have preferred a more realistic target or perhaps the novelty of letting teachers decide what to do with the extra money in their schools.

    It is actually disingenuous and sets up ridiculously high expectations. No doubt if the target isn’t reached someone will be held accountable…let the witch-hunts of teachers begin in 2025, long after Laws has left the scene.

  • In 2015 most children under the age of ten already seem perfectly capable of reading and writing every one of the millions of text messages that they send each other on their mobile phones and computers.

    Perhaps one of them should send a text to Mr Clegg?
    Or maybe the people at GCHQ who monitor all these text messages to protect us from Primary School Jihadis could tell him?
    As the father of small children you might have thought he would have noticed this fact of modern life.

  • Kevin McNamara 18th Jan '15 - 11:27am

    1) does the leader just make up the manifesto as he goes along now?
    2) this is ambitious and completely unachievable.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jan '15 - 11:42am

    A Lib Dem ‘key manifesto pledge’ not receiving any attention is this:

    ‘We will also overhaul early years teaching qualifications by letting nursery staff work towards Qualified Teacher Status and by 2020 requiring a qualified teacher graduate in every school or nursery delivering the early years curriculum.’

    So we agree with the Tories that unqualified teachers can teach small children as long as they are learning as they go along. So this means we accept Gove’s idea that teacher training in HE is not the best way to train to be a teacher.

    Contradicting this policy is the next one: all nursery/early years teachers have to be graduates… So students can go to university to obtain a degree, say in Astrophysics, but are not required to be trained to teach….

    Thirdly, why are we going along with the Tories in turning early years into a school experience? The reason why non-graduates have been able to be nursery teachers until now it seems, was because learning through play did not need to be graduate-led.

    This has all the signs of turning the early years into a French-style school experience – and yet their record of educational outcomes is currently poorer than ours..

    Utter silliness.

  • Helen Tedcastle

    You have to make allowance for Clegg. He is a victim of his upbringing.
    When he thinks of schools for children under the age of ten he is remembering this sort of thing —
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caldicott_School

    If this little school in Farnham Royal can boast of children going on to Eton and Westminster then surely those teachers in the state sector are missing a trick.

    Obviously the policy answer is to roll back the state sector, undermine teachers, downgrade their profession, remove their pension rights and drive down their salaries.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jan '15 - 1:08pm

    @ John Tilley

    Indeed John. I wonder why Clegg didn’t mention the bit about teacher training and the requirement for wholly graduate nursery teachers? Probably because it sounds incredibly close to Tory priorities. Of course he would prefer another coalition with the Tories – it’s obvious. Even the policies match.

  • @JT – “As the father of small children you might have thought he would have noticed this fact of modern life.”

    Yes, but we don’t think of policy in terms of ourself, we consider it in terms of anonymous poor people! Lib Dems are mostly A’s, B’s and C1’s – but when we create policy it’s usually aimed at C2′, D’s or E’s. This is ironic because we’ve always found it hard to get those people to vote for us over, say, Labour (or now UKIP). As such we have this continual narrative of interfering with people’s lives in places we fear to tread. How many campaigners have thought “there’s no point in canvassing that estate, it’s a sea of Labour and we don’t get a very warm reception”, or words to that effect, and justifiably so. Hardly any LD policies have affected me directly from the last parliament, they were aimed at some anonymous poor person that doesn’t vote LD – I simply got a higher tax bill and a noticeable slump in public services!

    If we’re going to focus on the bottom of society continually we should probably start by eliminating child hunger first, then physical/emotional abuse and then worry about literacy, because I don’t think you can achieve the last point without having fully tackled the first two. As John suggests, it doesn’t match my view of Britain today and I’m from an estate (I’ve been from E to A too!). There are other factors underpinning illiteracy, most of which can’t be tackled in school (e.g. parents transferring kids schools once its been ascertained the child is seriously underperforming). Very much agree with Helen, unless Nick has practical advice as to how to help 7 year old hyperactive boys pay attention when they’ve got no self-confidence and just want to run around, all whilst looking after a classroom of other kids, this whole thing seems unrealistic and pretty ignorant.

    @Kevin McNamara
    Nick Clegg IS the manifesto! Sadly he’s not a primary teacher, because if he were we’d have better manifesto content as regards infant education.

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Jan '15 - 2:03pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle,
    Not only witch hunts of teachers. What about the children who will internalise a sense of failure.

    I seriously wonder if any of the people who make pronouncements from above have ever had any contact with children who despite doing their best, do not reach a prescribed level of attainment by a certain age.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jan '15 - 3:10pm

    @ Jayne Mansfield

    Indeed, which is why I agree with David Bell, a former chief civil servant in the DfE, that politicians in Whitehall and their think-tanks, should be stripped of their powers to re-write the curriculum and inflict their ideological obsessions on education.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/ministers-must-stop-rewriting-curriculum-says-schools-expert-9966281.html

  • There are big variations in children’s performance at age 11 and 16, by school and by local authority, over and above that which can be explained by gender, ethnicity, income etc. A brief overview of the data are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/384958/SFR50_2014_Text.pdf.

    As John says, most children can read and write at 10 well enough to text, and to engage with the secondary curriculum. But not all. The best schools really are getting stunning results – William Burroughs in phonics, St Joseph’s Camden at KS2, to name two I have visited recently. These schools have truly inspiring results, for children of all backgrounds. (Off to Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School next – a secondary school with fantastic results).

  • Tim Leunig

    Tim, There is no arguing with the fact that the best schools get the best results.

    The empty boast that you can make every school the best school in ten years time is open to debate.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jan '15 - 7:27pm

    Tim Leunig

    ‘But not all. ‘

    That is a given. What you seem to be saying is that background and context or even innate aptitude are not significant factors in attainment. In other words, all the dice are loaded onto the ‘performance’ of the teacher.

    In other words, it’s the teachers’ faults if children with a low baseline score in reading at reception level – yes folks, this coalition is introducing testing for reception children from 2016 – don’t attain to ‘secondary readiness’ by the age of 11.

    If a child comes from a difficult and unstable background, if a child has special needs, these are significant factors in achievement – to pretend otherwise is pandering to kind of right-wing clap-trap we have spent decades pillorying the Tories for.

  • It is not a pledge it is a plan. But events can disrupt any plan. . Who designed the headline Pledge and Clegg together, that is a vote loser if there ever was one after Tuition Fees. I normally hammer the man but is Lib Dem voice being unfair here?

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Jan '15 - 11:28pm

    I am often sceptical about new technology, but I strongly suspect we need much more of it in teaching. Children with smart phones are going to be progressing with literacy faster than those without.

  • How is this going to happen. Protecting the education budget is all well and good, but it is that budget that has only got literacy levels up to 80% so to get the last 20% on the same budget seems a little improbable.

    I like it as an ambitious pledge – but there needs to be some credible pathway.

  • “In other words, it’s the teachers’ faults if children with a low baseline score in reading at reception level – yes folks, this coalition is introducing testing for reception children from 2016 ”

    Why is this a bad thing?

    If significant levels of students are leaving primary school without very basic level skills then somewhere, somebody is letting them down very very badly. Let there be a radical party which starts kicking some doors down to deal with that! After all “no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”, “we acknowledge and respect their right… to develop their talents to the full.” “We oppose oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality. “

  • Hywel 19th Jan ’15 – 12:27am
    ” If significant levels of students are leaving primary school without very basic level skills… ”

    Hywel, . The problem might be with the “If” at the beginning of our question.
    From what Clegg and Tim Leunig (here) say, there seems to be an acceptance that the vast majority of children are leaving primary school with more than basic skills in reading and writing.
    The Clegg pledge yesterday was that he would make it 100% within just ten years.
    He said that this would not only make them better equipped ten year olds but that it would —
    “….lead to success in secondary school and beyond.”

    I am all for ambitious targets and I am all against limiting any child’s horizons. But 100% ???
    Every child in ten years will “go on to success in secondary school and beyond.” ???

    To be fair to Clegg he has not said that this policy aim will be achieved by Isaiah coming down from heaven in a fiery chariot and smiling illiteracy with a rod of gold. But so far it sounds just as fantastic.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th Jan '15 - 9:50am

    Hywel
    ‘If significant levels of students are leaving primary school without very basic level skills then somewhere, somebody is letting them down very very badly.’

    This comment is another example of the blame culture we have created for ourselves in our short-termist political system.

    Children of four or even three go to reception class. You seem to be content that infants this young are tested.

    In the highest performing European countries like Finland, children do not have any formal learning until the age of seven. They do not have national testing until much further up the school system – when children are ready.

    In Finland, the emphasis is on play and unstructured play is allowed. Children are allowed to express themselves without being controlled by an adult.

    Their results at the end of secondary level for reading, writing and maths are the highest in Europe.

    We are sleep-walking into a toxic education system for children and young people. This will have long term effects on mental health and well-being (not just in teachers). Throwing some money at mental health will not be sufficient to meet the needs of this generation if this continues.

  • Sorry folks, but when manifesto/policy making on the hoof by the party leader sinks to this level, is there even any point in debating it? It smacks of rearranging hypothetical deckchairs on the Titanic.

  • Stephen Hesketh 19th Jan '15 - 12:40pm

    Phil Rimmer19th Jan ’15 – 11:28am

    I agree Phil. Leaders of democratic political parties should only make policy on the hoof in exceptional circumstances such as emergencies of national or international importance. However laudible as a target, this does not represent one of those events. Very important yes, emergency, absolutely not.

    As John Tilley adds “I am all for ambitious targets and I am all against limiting any child’s horizons. But 100% ???”

  • Just catching up – as others have said this is equivalent to pledging to abolish rainy days in summer by 2025.
    You would have to devalue the tests to meaningless, and the idea that special needs children / those with poor English / the bone idle will all be at Level 4 in 10 years doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. Although the guff about qualified teachers isn’t much better; most unqualified teachers are working towards QTS, and if they are established in the classroom then they’ll likely have the core skills anyway.

    If we want a proper, radical, education policy, how about implementing the Tomlinson review? All about putting vocational education on a par with academic qualifications, with technical GCSEs, vocational courses run out of schools to lessen the differences, and fuller options for students at a younger age. Now THAT would transform our education system.

  • Andrew Noblet 19th Jan '15 - 2:48pm

    Breathtaking. How on earth will he achieve that. So far all parties in government have tried but none have achieved the aim. This is unfortunate but inevitable. I know, should Nick not be elected he could go into teaching he seems quite good with small children. If the Tories form the next Government he won’t even have to study for a teaching qualification.

  • This seems to be an endorsement of this campaign:
    http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0002/3984/Vision_for_Literacy_2025.pdf

    But without identifying (and funding???) the pathways.

    Helen – is this a blame culture. That’s a bit of a straw man – but it is fair to ask why ARE we in a situation where nearly half of poor 11 year olds are unable to read newspapers and websites. If there is blame it is in accepting that that is acceptable.

    But I don’t get your argument. Firstly your saying this can’t be done – seemingly because of less able/special needs students, then your highlighting teaching practice in Finland where this doesn’t seem to be an issue:

  • Hywel

    A slight diversion – but you mention “reading newspapers”.

    It just made me wonder how many children in poor families in 2015 actually ever see a newspaper.

    According to published figures only around 8,000,000 daily newspapers are sold in the UK and the percentage annual decline in sales is dramatic.
    The Independent for example sells fewer than 65,000 every day — probably fewer people than read my Focus. 🙂

    The UK has a population of around 64 million.
    So I guess that means that a lot of children only ever see a newspaper as often as they see a gramophone record.

  • Nigel Jones 19th Jan '15 - 6:21pm

    We are in an election period and Nick has to say something to attract attention, since most people do not want to listen to us !
    It is unfortunate that politicians feel they have to continue to be seen to be meddling in the details of Education policy, without first engaging with the professionals who have to put it into practice. The broad principles of protecting budgets and raising standards is fine for them to speak about, but why talk of a target at a particular stage in a child’s development as if they know the answer to the problem ? It is open to question whether we need a system which is subject to so many external tests and targets anyway.
    I fear once again, the aim is fine and politicians do need to hold the Education system to account, but getting the detail wrong may not achieve the public support we need; at least from teachers, who most of all want proper engagement with policymakers rather than one-line simplistic targets.

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th Jan '15 - 7:11pm

    Hywel
    This from the Literacy Trust: ‘ Given the importance of spoken language in underpinning literacy
    skills, effective support is required to ensure that the early
    literacy experience of all children is strong and that all
    children are brought up in language-rich environments.’

    So the problems of literacy occur first of all in the home. This is related to my point about early years education. Children learn through play. A strong play culture before formal learning encourages the development of language.

    ‘ Poor literacy is frequently intergenerational: parents with
    lower literacy skills often lack the confidence and skills
    to help their children with reading and writing, which
    reinforces the cycle of disadvantage.’

    So children fall behind due to their social environments and role models. They spend most of their time with parents, grand-parents and other relatives – not their teachers. So blaming teachers for all the ills of illiteracy as the Daily Mail does, fails to take reality into account. If you are looking for reasons why we fall behind with some children, look no further than here.

    ‘ The cycle must be broken. Innovative approaches using social marketing and
    other strategies to influence parental behaviour need to be
    used. ‘

    I think the Tories were talking about nurseries for two year olds. That way the literal nanny-state can bring up the children while the parent slaves away on a zero-hours contract. Afterall, Nanny did all the work for the old-Etonians in the Cabinet.

    I am in favour of early years learning by play and slimmed down curriculum. I am against arbitrary targets. I think the Literacy Trust are also caught up in the target culture.

    Getting every special needs child to level 4b by eleven years of age will require a massive injection of resources, one to one tuition intensively for years – and state intervention in the lives of parents. It will have to be done sensitively to avoid coming across as patronising.

    Will that be done by our Oxbridge-educated elite? Doubt it.

  • There was a man once who said, “We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”

  • Helen Tedcastle

    This point in your comment really sums up why Clegg was wrong to make this “pledge” — especially —

    “.. problems of literacy occur first of all in the home. …
    ‘ Poor literacy is frequently intergenerational: parents with
    lower literacy skills often lack the confidence and skills
    to help their children with reading and writing, which
    reinforces the cycle of disadvantage.’

    So children fall behind due to their social environments and role models. They spend most of their time with parents, grand-parents and other relatives – not their teachers. ”

    A staggering 59% of the Cabinet went to the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, compared to the average of less than 1% of the public as a whole, according to the research from The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

    36% of the Cabinet went to private schools, compared to only 7% of the public as a whole.

    Yet these Cabinet ministers, career politicians who have no teaching qualifications or experience of working in education, sweep in with grandstanding election statements about abolishing illiteracy for 100% of our children.

    I suppose that sort of arrogance only comes after a privileged background from parents that can buy you Prep Schools, Private Schools and Oxbridge.

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