HC Deb 09 September 2004 vol 424 cc847-8
4. Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the national literacy strategy. [187697]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

The introduction of the national literacy strategy in 1998 has brought about dramatic improvements in standards across the ability range. This year, a record 77 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved level 4 in English. Compared with 1997, there are now around 84,000 more 11-year-olds achieving the expected level for their age in English.

Mr. Gibb

But is it not a disgrace that 17 per cent. of all 11-year-olds—nearly one in five—are going to secondary school unable to read properly after six years in primary schools, and that 37 per cent. are going to secondary school unable to write properly? Does the Minister accept that the problem lies in the way in which reading is taught in our schools and the way in which the national literacy strategy has been implemented, with too much emphasis on whole language teaching methods and not enough concentration on phonics? Does he accept that it is the role of education Ministers, whether Conservative or Labour, to challenge the teacher training colleges and the profession over this clearly failed methodology, rather than simply to say that this is a matter for the profession?

Mr. Twigg

I totally accept the hon. Gentleman's point and would like to put on record a tribute to him for the campaigning efforts that he has undertaken on the question of phonics. We have placed phonics at the centre of the literacy strategy, and in this academic year we are providing new training about phonics for teachers in key stages 1 and 2. That challenge needs to be there alongside the other changes that are necessary to ensure that we continue to build on the progress that I described.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that Rosewood school in Burnley, which he visited earlier this year, is an example of a new primary school showing what is being done throughout Burnley as a result of this Government's policies, which are, through the literacy strategy and in many other ways, delivering much better education than under the previous Tory Government?

Mr. Twigg

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. It is worth reminding hon. Members that, when we came to power in 1997, only 63 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the expected level in English—in other words, 37 per cent. went to secondary school without achieving it. The 14-point growth constitutes remarkable progress. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I greatly enjoyed my visit to the school and I am delighted that Burnley is now part of wave one of the building schools for the future programme. That means that its secondary as well as its primary schools can be renewed.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con)

In the Under-Secretary's reply, he said that 77 per cent. of children achieved level 4 or above this year. Does he accept that the original target was 85 per cent.? It has slipped to 2006. Is he confident that the target will be reached then? Will it slip again or become simply an aspiration?

Mr. Twigg

We have made it absolutely clear that 85 per cent. remains our target. We will do everything that we can to ensure that this year's improvement, about which I was delighted, continues.

I return the challenge to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. The Conservative party has talked about abandoning targets. Is he saying that we should not aim to get the majority of our 11-year-olds to achieve the expected level so that they are equipped to go on to secondary school?

The 14-point improvement in the past seven years is remarkable because the greatest improvement has happened in schools that served the most deprived communities. That is a cause for celebration, certainly for Labour Members.