British High School calls in primary teacher to solve its reading crisis as pupils have abilities of a FIVE-year-old

An inner-city secondary school has had to recruit a primary school teacher because so many pupils have the reading and writing skills of a five or six-year-old.

Shocking standards of English among children aged 11 to 13 at the Sirius Academy in Hull led to the pioneering back-to-basics literacy scheme. It is believed to be the first such scheme in the country in a state-funded mainstream school.

Teacher Liz Atwood is using picture books usually aimed at youngsters barely out of nursery school, working on basic spelling and joining up letters to improve terrible handwriting.

The rise of Facebook and texting are said to be significant factors behind appalling standards of English at some schools. Teachers say they have encouraged a lazy approach to spelling and grammar as well as the use of abbreviations.

Miss Atwood, 24, is working with 38 children in Year Seven and 24 from Year Eight – around 10 per cent of the pupils in those age groups.

She sees the children in small groups four times a week for 100-minute sessions. ‘Some have a reading age of five years and the reading age is the same age as the writing age,’ she said.

Other schools facing similar problems are said to be monitoring the scheme’s progress with interest.

The teacher was recruited from a local primary school to take up the ‘transitional’ teaching post when the academy opened two-and-a-half years ago. In that time standards are said to have improved dramatically, with the group’s average reading age increasing by nine months a year.

Some of her students now in Year Eight have advanced three years in reading age since September 2010. Miss Atwood identified ‘routine and repetition’ as the key to improving literacy standards from the previous crisis level.

The bookshelves in her class reflect the primary school level study and include favourites such as Beware Of The Story Book Wolves (recommended for ages four and over), Sam’s Sunflower and several Dr Seuss classics.

The school library also has Don’t You Dare Dragon!, a pop-up style book intended for four-year-olds, and other simple-to-read picture books such as Alfie the Sea Dog.

English teacher Gemma Jackson, 27, said ‘social media’ had a negative impact on school work, with abbreviations such as ‘B4’ frequently being used.

‘When they are reading things on Facebook they do copy the language, so we get a lot of text talk and it can be so difficult to get children to write properly,’ she said.

Commenting on the learning programme, she added: ‘It has made a huge difference and you now see children walking around with books, which you never used to.’

Charlotte Hobbs, 12, has flourished with the extra help and is seen as a success of the system, though her reading level is still seven years and five months. She said: ‘It has made a big difference to my life. 'I enjoy school so much I do not want to take a day off.’

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, praised the initiative at the academy school – which has 1,200 pupils – but criticised standards at primary level.

He said: ‘Children should be learning stuff like this when they are five or six, not 11 and 12. They may say parents need to do more but they have to call the primary schools to account.'


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