Pupils should not be defined by their secretarial skills

Children learn to read and write at primary school. All Key Stage One and Two lessons will have some element that is designed to develop the pupils’ literacy skills. 

  • Primary teacher training courses have a strong literacy component. Primary teachers become literacy specialists because of this training and their subsequent classroom experience. 
  • Primary teachers teach the same class for a year and get to know the children well. They will understand that different children learn in different ways and will vary their approaches to teaching literacy accordingly.
  • Primary schools have an extensive range of literacy resources, games and computer programmes, in addition to reading material to suit every pupil: the competent reader needing to be challenged, as well as the struggling or reluctant reader.
  • Most primary classrooms have timetabled support from Teaching Assistants, who are available to help individuals and small groups with literacy. These Teaching Assistants tend to be linked to the same class or year group, and will know individual children well.

In secondary schools, pupils use literacy to access curriculum subjects. Secondary teachers are not literacy specialists, they are subject specialists. Secondary subject teachers in mainstream schools will not have time to focus on a pupil’s literacy needs during lessons, as the curriculum content of their subject, be it Design, History, Drama, Biology, etc, will take priority.  

Pupils in secondary school with weak literacy skills may be withdrawn for ‘catch-up’ lessons, perhaps being taught reading and writing in ways that haven’t worked for them previously. These catch-up lessons may take place after school when pupils are tired, or at lunch time when they need to take a break from studies. They may have to drop subjects, or be withdrawn from subjects they enjoy to attend support lessons. This may be in spite of the pupils having an average or above average IQ.

If children continue to experience difficulties with literacy when they transfer to secondary school, the focus should be on finding ways around such problems. There is a balance to be struck between the child reaching a level of functional literacy, achieving the qualifications they are capable of, and maintaining reasonable levels of self-esteem. The support focus is misdirected if a pupil attends a Nurture Group to boost their confidence, when their low self-esteem is due to inadequate literacy levels.

There is no need for pupils to be held back by weak secretarial skills in a technological age. Extra lessons in basic literacy should be dropped in favour of assistive technology used in mainstream classes: speech recognition software, text to speech software, mind mapping apps, note taking apps, electronic calendars, smart phones apps and so forth. A.T. will allow pupils the opportunity to work at a level close to their potential rather than bang their head against the same brick wall.

‘The Times They Are a–Changing’ – Bob Dylan.

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