Why reading is such a vital skill

John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council

Tuesday, 27th December 2016, 8:00 am
John Holdich

There are few more important skills you can learn in life than being able to read.

Without it, simple things like making sense of the instructions on a packet of food or understanding a utility bill can prove daunting.

Last week the government published its validated key stage 2 results for our primary schools, revealing how many pupils reached the required level of attainment in reading, writing and mathematics.

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Although the results show some progress, overall they need to improve and this is why I have commissioned a review to begin in the new year to see if there is anything more the council can do to support our schools to raise attainment.

Data was also released which shows the progress children make from when they start primary school to when they leave. This measure is important for our schools because many children begin their education at a very low level, lower than in many other parts of the country. In this measure, Peterborough ranked much higher against other local authorities; in the top third for writing (51st out of 152) and 108th for mathematics. However, for reading we were placed 139th.

As I’ve said previously in this column, given the challenges we face in this city our children have to make greater progress to reach the same primary school attainment levels as those achieved in other areas of the UK.

This higher level of progress shows that our pupils are able to catch up once they are in education and perform well through secondary schools. The positive news is that many of our young people now do get good GCSE results because the teaching in nine out of ten schools in the city is rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding.

Being able to read underpins a child’s entire education and will affect how they achieve in every subject and I have made it my mission for the new year to work with schools on an initiative to improve reading standards.

Dogsthorpe Infants recently took part in a fantastic project run by the National Literacy Trust, Early Words Together, which is designed to help develop children’s early language skills and involve parents in the process. In the beginning the parents involved were unsure about reading with their child, but as the weeks went on they became more confident and realised how important reading is for children. The feedback about one young lad was that he’s now more confident in the classroom, his literacy levels have improved and he’s now enjoying reading books too.

I want to see this kind of success emulated across all our schools.

Children and families clearly want to read and find it enjoyable. Over the summer the Literacy Trust worked with us to host a pop-up shop in Bridge Street which saw 2,480 children, parents and members of the community pass through the doors and more than 6,000 free books were given to children to take home to read.

Initiatives such as this are starting to see results. Earlier in the year the National Literacy Trust surveyed children aged between eight and 11 and found that the number who enjoy reading has increased by 23.4 per cent from 2014 to 2015.

We now need to further the good work that is underway and importantly encourage families to read to their children at home. My wife and I read to our children from only a few weeks old and our children have done the same with our grandchildren.

If we can get more children enjoying books from a young age, I believe they will start school at a higher level and achieve better results in their education and throughout their lives.

Finally, I’d like to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy new year. I hope you all have time to relax and enjoy the festivities with your friends and families.