Hugh Reilly: School takes a back seat to sex, image and Twitter

TEACHERS in Scotland will be heartened that the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) does not make grim reading for the profession.

According to the statistics, kids appear to peak at P7, with performance significantly declining thereafter. It’s only anecdotal, but my guess would be that there are several possible reasons for the fluctuating fortunes. At P7, fledgling youngsters are about to flee the comfort zone of the primary school nest. Moving to secondary holds some fears, but a big plus is that it offers an opportunity to wipe the slate clean.

Fast forward two years, and the child is undergoing that difficult period known as adolescence, a period when youngsters rebel and question much of what takes happens in school (and in the home!). Any chalkie will tell you that S2 is the most, erm, challenging year group to educate. The hormones are jumping and ill-discipline rears its ugly, angry head.

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At this tweenie age, school takes a back seat to new interests such as the opposite sex, self-image and, nowadays, an addiction to social media. The 92 per cent of P4 who gave positive responses to the statement “I enjoy reading” dwindles to just 62 per cent in S2. If one assumes that books do not suddenly lose quality, the variable in the equation is the motivation of the reader. The year I retired, I recall asking an S2 class: “How many of you are currently reading a book?” Only three hands were raised. Kids who had voraciously devoured their next reading book in the “wee school” had turned a new page in their lives.

Mums and dads upset at the apparent decline in literary standards by S2 would do well to reflect how much assistance they offer – and how much is accepted – by their 14-year-old child. With all manner of electronic audiovisual feasts at the touch of their fingers, no wonder the writing is on the wall for reading skills.

• Hugh Reilly is a former secondary school teacher.