The cost of school failure

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IT is hardly surprising that so many pupils are leaving secondary school lacking literacy and numeracy skills when so many primary schools are failing to equip children for secondary school in the first place.

According to the latest primary-school league tables, more than 1,300 schools across the country are missing targets for pupils mastering the basics. Meanwhile, to this region’s shame, Hull and Wakefield are among the very worst performing areas in England, with Rotherham and North Lincolnshire not far behind, based on 11-year-olds’ performances in English and maths Sats tests.

This means that one in 10 boys is leaving primary school with the reading age of a seven-year-old, while one in 14 has the writing age of a seven-year-old. And with secondary schools already having enough on their hands without correcting the faults that primaries should have put right, the result is far too many teenagers leaving school still deficient in English and maths and therefore struggling at university or failing to find a job.

Indeed, the consequences reach even further. For, as Morrisons announced last week, many recruits even lack basic social skills such as turning up on time and making eye contact. Yet it is hardly surprising that, if children are not taught to read and write properly, they lack the self-confidence necessary for all kinds of simple social interaction.

This is a damning indictment of the education system and of primary schools in particular. And while education in itself cannot be relied upon to solve the problems of the troubled families identified by the Government yesterday in the wake of the summer riots, it has to form a large part of that solution. For if teaching is more effective, it becomes more attractive, and a child who feels he is learning and making progress has less incentive to skip school, roam the streets and look for trouble.

There are, of course, many excellent primary schools with top-quality teachers and the results to show for it. But far too many are failing in their basic functions and the cost of that failure is becoming too much for society to bear.