Some lessons best left unlearnt 2

February 24, 2006

Many of the underlying issues related to first-years' illiteracy in higher education seem to have been ignored by your correspondents. In further education the malaise is growing.

In some areas, students whose literacy skills are well below the grade C in English language GCSEimposed by the Government are being accepted into further education at Level 3.

There will be little or no improvement in literacy standards when, for the sake of retention, course leaders blind themselves to the need to embed sustained literacy (writing) skills in their curricula up to higher education entry.

It is my guess, based on continuing experience of declining standards through the yearly reading of hundreds of texts, that literacy skills at Level 3 are now so poor across further education that there can be few Universities and Colleges Admissions Service personal statements that have not been corrected or significantly altered by personal academic tutors or by learning support staff before transmission to receiving higher education institutions.

This situation is a disgrace, and radical action is necessary to redress it at secondary level. Many further education teachers have for too long been fighting independent rearguard actions to instil the need for literacy in English in situations where secondary education has failed to instil it.

Those further education staff for whom academic standards still matter may agree that, while they are doing what they can to address local deficiencies, the Government and the universities must deploy their own strategies to peg literacy benchmarks, and stick to them, or face some very unpleasant consequences.

Julian Freeman East Sussex

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