Literacy and numeracy ‘overlooked’ in Scotland’s schools

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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TEACHERS have been told to focus on basic literacy and numeracy in the classroom as a way of driving up attainment in Scotland’s schools.

New guidance published following a six-month consultation between the Scottish Government and education leaders said the profession should not focus solely on exam results, but rather go back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Publication of the document, which is being made available to all Scotland’s teachers, follows input from headteachers, the Association of Directors of Education Scotland and Education Scotland.

It comes amid growing concern over Curriculum for Excellence and the introduction of the new National exams which are due to begin in 2012-13.

Earlier this week, education secretary Michael Russell announced that schools would be able to request a one-year delay in introducing the exams if teachers did not feel ready.

The guidance said teachers should focus on literacy and numeracy as “platforms on which to build future learning”.

In line with Curriculum for Excellence’s focus on cross-curricular learning, teachers are being asked to think about how literacy and numeracy can be taught during all parts of the school day.

The document states: “Raising attainment means improving life chances. This does not mean just focusing on exam results, but instead looking at attainment in its widest sense.

“As a teacher, you are central to raising attainment in Scotland. We have achieved a lot, but we can build on our strengths, and the improvements we are making through Curriculum for Excellence ensure that we can firmly embed a culture of continuous improvement.” The arrival of the guidance comes ahead of the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, which will be published by the Scottish Government next week.

Liz Smith, the Tory education spokeswoman, said teachers would not need to be told about the importance of raising attainment and that the problem of illiteracy remained a “damning indictment” of the education system.

She said: “The vast majority of teachers will know much of this already – I don’t think there’s a teacher in the country who does not care about raising attainment.

“I was a little surprised teachers are being told something which they already know and which parents quite rightly expect. If teachers are not focused on raising attainment, then parents will wonder what on earth they are doing.

“We’ve still got one in six children leaving school who the government defines as functionally illiterate, which is a very damning indictment.

“Businesses are still having to spend money addressing deficiencies and having to raise the issue as part of the attainment review is very worrying.”

But Tina Woolnough, spokeswoman for the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said the study of literacy and numeracy was already being put at the centre of the new curriculum.

She said: “Historically, basic literacy and numeracy has been overlooked and there is now a national push to address the problem.

“We really should not be having children coming out of school who are illiterate, but for too long children have left school without basic skills.

“As a parent, when I first started hearing about Curriculum for Excellence I was surprised to find out that a primary school teacher teaching history, for example, would ignore literacy or would ignore numeracy during lessons about science and would only focus on literacy and numeracy as part of set lessons.

“There is a more holistic approach now and teachers understand that.”

Earlier this week, the education secretary moved to allay fears over the introduction of the Nationals, which will replace Standard Grades and Intermediates in the country’s schools.

East Renfrewshire Council, which is home to some of Scotland’s best-performing state schools, has said it will delay the introduction of the new qualifications by a year to give its teachers more time to prepare.

While no other council is expected to follow suit, there is understood to be growing concerns among staff in some schools that they are not ready to teach for the new exams.

Commenting on the publication of the new guidance for teachers, Mr Russell said: “I am proud of the very high standards of teaching and learning in our schools, but we must not be complacent and should be striving for continuous improvement.

“Increasing standards through excellent teaching and learning is central to Curriculum for Excellence. And the flexibility of the new curriculum will improve motivation and attainment in our children young people.”

He added: “I want to support teachers, our education leaders, who are working every day to close the gap between the highest and lowest achievers and to enable children and young people to realise their ambitions and improve their life chances.”

Earlier this year, a survey found more than a third of Scottish children were unable to spell basic words and a quarter could not add without a calculator by the time they leave primary school. In children aged between ten and 12, it found 24 per cent could not add £2.36 to £1.49 to get £3.85, while 36 per cent could not spell “secretaries”.

The study, by online tuition firm, also found that about a third of children could not do division, while more than a quarter struggled with basic algebra and a third did not know what a noun was.

The survey questioned 130 children and their parents across Scotland, and a total of 1,000 children across the UK as a whole.

Meanwhile, a report by the politically-neutral Improvement Service was handed to MSPs in January claiming that 15-year-old children at the bottom of the class are so far behind they were performing “as if they were ten years old”. The paper concluded that Scotland has the highest gap between the top and bottom in schools of anywhere in western Europe.