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Primary Schools (Literacy)

Volume 507: debated on Monday 8 March 2010

Literacy standards in primary schools have never been higher. Eighty per cent. of 11-year-olds are now reaching the target level in English, up 17 percentage points from 1997. Record levels of funding and support, coupled with programmes such as communication, language and literacy development, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer and, now, the pupil guarantee, all continue to drive up standards and progression.

But this year’s key stage 2 results are, I believe, the clearest indication yet that the Government’s policies for primary education have not only stalled but failed. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to focus on the use of tried and tested teaching methods in our primary schools?

I do not see how 100,000 more children achieving level 4 this year when compared with 1997 is a record of failure; I think that it is a record of sustained progress of which we can be proud. We are, of course, looking to see what further measures we can take to ensure that all children achieve the level that they should. That is why we are introducing one-to-one tuition and small group work; that is why the programmes to which I have referred, Every Child a Reader and Every Child a Writer, will be expanded and developed; and that is why we have recently announced proposals to allow the best primary schools to federate and join those primary schools that need support. So, over a period, we shall see continued and sustained progress.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the success in raising literacy standards is very largely due to our highly skilled teaching work force? If that is to continue and we are to achieve even better results, we must ensure that their continuing professional development—CPD—goes on unmarred. Does he realise that the “rarely cover” policy is interpreted in some schools as stopping CPD taking place?

“Rarely cover” arrangements, as my hon. Friend will know as Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, should not stop CPD in any form. Continuing professional development is an important part of the entitlement of every teacher in our schools, and one way in which we want to see that progress and become entrenched is with a licence to practise, which we are introducing through the current Children, Schools and Families Bill, and which will mean a statutory entitlement for teachers with respect to their continuing professional development.

The Minister knows that the foundations for children’s literacy are laid in the very first years of their school life, and that the true record of Labour in that respect is no improvement in the national standards of reading at key stage 1 since 2001, and a decline in the standard of writing. Is it not time to start doing as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) has said and focus on tried and trusted teaching methods, such as synthetic phonics, and bring in an effective reading test when children are six years old in order to ensure that every child has the opportunity to master the essential skills of reading, which will stand them in good stead for the future?

Of course we want to improve reading and writing. That is why we introduced Sure Start, which, as the hon. Lady will know, her party proposes to cut. She also mentioned the introduction of phonics as a way of ensuring that young children, particularly those at key stage 1, achieve the levels that they should, and she will know that it is now mandatory for schools to teach phonics at key stage 1.