A Valentine’s Day Letter – You Have Broken My Heart . . .

Feb 14, 2018 | Effective Practice, Literacy Leadership, Teaching Struggling Readers, Whole School Literacy

Dear Education

We’ve had a long relationship and one that I, at least, was deeply committed to. We both cared deeply about helping every child to become literate – at least I thought you did too. But lately I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this relationship isn’t working. Let me explain.

The passion turned out to be superficial

I heard a lot about passion, and how important it was to changing the lives of the children who needed the most help. But your sense of urgency keeps evaporating when it comes to making a real commitment. These children are still leaving school not being able to read properly. Maybe your passion was real at the time, but the lack of follow-through troubles me.

You’re short-term, I’m long-term

After a while I’ve realised that, for you, just doing ‘something about literacy’ seems to be sufficient. You want ‘quick wins’, but for me the best response to such problems is hard work and a long-term commitment. I guess I’m getting tired of cleaning up the after-effects of all those ‘quick win’ parties you’ve held, that have left students – and teachers – discouraged and jaded.

You keep settling for second best

When I heard you talk about high-quality provision and evidence-based practice, I admit I was won over. You were talking my language. But when I look at what you actually do, it seems that these days you’ll call anything high-quality or evidence-based. It seems old affections die hard – even at the expense of ideals.

Who are you trying to please?

I know that you face a lot of competing demands, but it does seem to me that some issues absorb more of your attention than they should, and that others of drastic consequence are ignored. I mean, grammar schools? When ten percent of secondary students can’t read to save themselves? Really? I see a lot of effort has gone into placing higher value on the upper grades at GCSE, but not a lot on getting children off the bottom grades. Why ever not?

When things get tough, you avoid hard choices

I know that there is pressure on budgets. But I don’t see you fighting for better systems, better staff training, making sure that only really effective literacy programmes are in place. You seem to keep hoping that these decisions will go away. But they won’t, because the children who can’t read are still in your schools.

We have different priorities

I hear you say that you want excellence – but you don’t seem to think that applies to all children, just those who are already at the top. Those at the ‘lower end’ have just as much right to an excellent education as anyone else – arguably more so. After all, to date, they’ve been short-changed by the system, and this is our last chance to do something effective to fix that.

You don’t keep your promises

Your conscience pricks, I think, but at the end of the day you don’t seem to have the will to carry things through. I don’t know how many billions you showered on pupil premium funding with only the loosest constraints on how those billions could be used. Is it any wonder people don’t trust you any more?

I’m finding it hard to have a frank conversation with you

It seems that every time I ask a question you don’t like, you change the subject. I understand that there are many things to be done in education, but helping these children is pretty important. You never seem to want to talk about this topic, except to run through all the labels you’ve given out to excuse the fact that they haven’t made progress.

I expect by now you understand why I’ve lost faith in you. But I, and others, will go on working to ensure the children I’ve been talking about have a better chance at life because they can read well. It doesn’t seem such a daunting goal, but I believe that it’s been a step too far for you.

Who knows? Perhaps, one day, you will change your mind. I’ll still be here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list to receive a copy of our free e-book ‘From Good to Great: How to get the very best literacy provision for every secondary school student.

You may also be interested in:

A Heart for School Improvement

Can’t Read, Won’t Read: Part One

A Question of Progress

Are grammar schools the best way to address social mobility?


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