Poll on literacy - Results

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Literacy is an essential skill but the ability to read and write is too often taken for granted. Individuals may feel ashamed that they cannot read and write well enough and children may try to hide it from their teachers and classmates, adding to the pressure of their learning experience.

The OECD defines functional literacy as “the ability to read and write at a level that enables development and functioning in society at home, school and work.” Literacy has many different dimensions and links with essential related areas such as oracy, digital competence, and being able to analyse news media critically.

Improved literacy not only helps overcome poverty of income in later life, it also helps overcome poverty of aspiration. Strong literacy skills can increase self-confidence, improve health and wellbeing, and increase civic and social engagement.

Schools naturally play a vital role in ensuring young people have adequate levels of literacy. However, progress towards the European target of no more than 15 percent of low-achieving 15 year-olds in reading literacy by 2020 has been slow; indeed the percentage of poor readers has actually increased since 2000 and boys’ literacy has fallen further behind girls’.

The poll on the topic of children’s literacy and school education was open on the School Education Gateway and gathered a total of 179 responses.

Results (N=179)

To what extent do you agree with the following statements?

Mountain View

[Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding]

1) We live in a visual world where spoken language predominates. The teaching of correct writing, including proper grammar and spelling, is less important today than it used to be.

Most respondents (78%) either strongly disagreed or disagreed with this provocative statement. For them, teaching young people to use the written form of language correctly, including ‘proper’ grammar and spelling, is no less important than it used to be. On the other hand, a significant minority (23%) agreed or strongly agreed that we live in a visual world dominated by the spoken language, and for them teaching the correct use of the written language is less important than in the past.

2) The use of social media, instant messaging and smartphones, is having a positive impact on young people’s literacy.

A question often discussed in the media is whether technology has an impact on literacy, and whether the effect is positive or negative. Most of the respondents to this online poll consider that social media, instant messaging services do not enhance young people’s literacy: 75% disagreed or disagreed strongly with the assertion that they have a positive impact. Only a small percentage (four percent) felt strongly that social media and other technologies and tools used by young people are impacting positively on their literacy.

3) Raising the literacy level of students is the responsibility of all subject teachers, not only of the language teachers.

This statement generated overwhelming agreement: 74% agreeing strongly that developing students’ literacy is not the sole responsibility of language teachers, but of all teachers, and a further 21% agreeing – a total of 95%.

4) In my school or schools that I know, there are successful strategies for increasing reading for pleasure.

Reading for pleasure, as entertainment, rather than reading for specific reasons is sometimes neglected in schools, given the pressure of high-stakes testing and accountability. Encouragingly, in this poll 60% of respondents felt that schools they work in or know of have successful strategies for increasing reading for pleasure. However, there must be many schools where this is not the case, as indicated by the 39% who disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement.

5) Improving struggling readers’ skills takes too much time and resources to be worth the effort after children finish primary school.

Many people tend to think that it is the job of primary schools to teach children to read and write, leaving secondary schools to teach subjects, and if children cannot read by age 11, it is too late to help them catch up. However, over 80% of those surveyed disagreed or disagreed strongly; for them it is never too late to help young people read, even if it takes a lot of time and effort.

6) A learner's literacy will benefit if it is acquired in two or more languages simultaneously.

There is an argument that time spent by children with low literacy levels learning a second language is better spent on additional lessons in the first language. The responses to this statement, however, show that those participating in the survey strongly feel that literacy can be developed across two languages: 20% agreeing strongly with the statement and 59% agreeing with it. Again, there is a significant minority (21% in this case) who feel that efforts to develop literacy should not be spread across languages.

Which school interventions could best raise the literacy levels in your view? (up to three options)

Mountain View

The option receiving most votes (74% of respondents picked this one) was to designate set reading times during the school day. Two actions tied for second place (each mentioned by 53%): to provide intensive one-to-one support for children and young people with reading difficulties and increasing access to good literacy training for teachers.

13% of the respondents chose exactly these three options. Furthermore, 30% chose “designated reading time” and “more access”, while 39% chose “designated reading time” and “intensive one-to-one support.” 

Interestingly, all seven actions attracted some votes, although only 10% chose providing a Kindle or other e-reader for every child (reflecting the concerns about technology in statement 2, above). Other actions supported were having a well-designed library (41%), literacy events and campaigns (34%) and using newspapers (22%). 


This survey revealed some interesting points of view on the subject of developing young people’s literacy. Most of the respondents felt strongly that writing skills, including correct grammar and spelling, is as important now as it always has been. A pervasive view was also that the growth of social media, instant messaging and the ubiquitous smartphone does not enhance literacy development.

As for how schools can help develop reading skills, a large majority felt that literacy is the responsibility of all teachers. This implies that students’ reading and writing should be part of the daily work of all teachers, in addition to (or integrated within) the content of lessons, and possibly of assessments. This is quite a tall order and calls for training and inter-disciplinary coordination.

 Encouragingly, most respondents considered that their school, or schools they know, already have a successful strategy for developing reading for pleasure. The poll also shows that assistance for struggling readers should be continued into secondary school if necessary. Echoing the view that developing literacy is the responsibility of all teachers, people also felt that literacy can be developed in more than one language at the same time.