As recently as September 2014, it was being reported in the national press that shocking numbers of young children were leaving primary school unable to read competently. So much focus has been given to the failure to teach young children numeracy skills, that the situation with regard to literacy has been eclipsed. All the indicators are, that a foster child is likely to be disadvantaged relative to his/her more fortunate peers: this is certainly likely to be the case when it comes to their reading skills. Placement breakdowns negate the kind of stability children need to be able to settle and acquire reading skills in a relaxed atmosphere.
The case for literacy is often made within a very narrow band. It should not just be about producing functioning, employable adults for the market economy. Society needs everyone to be a competent reader and our education system is failing badly, if large numbers of children leave school functionally illiterate. To be a member of any society, you have to be able to participate, and to be illiterate is to be excluded from the world of thoughts and ideas that are the lifeblood of a nation. This exclusion has grievous effects, not least the creation of a disenfranchised underclass unable to progress in life.
Foster the power of the imagination
We should not measure success purely in terms of turning out children who have basic reading skills. That could be thought of as having a car only ever driven around the block – instead of one able to provide limitless journeys into the imagination. And this is the real point: we have to think about the potential inherent in the act of reading. We have to recognise how empowering it is. A single book can change the course of a life. If anyone doubts the power of the printed word, the antics of assorted dictators certainly testify to the sentiment:
“Wherever they burn books, in the end will also burn human beings.” – Heinrich Heine
This dark reality has to be countered through understanding its central truth; namely, that being able to access a whole universe of thoughts and ideas can transform the individual – and by extension society itself. Viewed positively, being able to read can enable us to redirect our lives, imagine new ways of being – or simply engage with our own imaginations. It would be hard to improve on the view of the renowned film director Ridley Scott:
“The best cinema in the world is the brain, and you know it when you read a good book.”
And on a more prosaic level, a good book can always be an escape from the boredom that can affect young people. Vandals and petty criminals tend not to be well read literate individuals. But conversely, there are examples of ex offenders who have turned to literature and then become published authors themselves.
Literacy can play a huge part in defining who we are and how we think of ourselves and our place in the world. There can be few things with this transformative power. And it is not fixed, but renewed and refreshed by exposure to each new idea or flight of the imagination. Literacy is a priceless skill and has to be seen in the fullest frame in terms of its power to educate, liberate, inspire and transform the individual and society. But even as recently as 2014, the numbers of children leaving primary school unable to read properly were appallingly high. The response was a campaign “Read on, get on” set the bar as low as it’s possible to set given its goal was every 11-year-old in the country should be able to read then follow written instructions where each step contained “up to three short sentences”. At the time, this was even put forward as a brave and radical objective.
We know how literacy develops – children from loving, nurturing homes receive the investment from their parents in terms of books being made available – as well as parental time. This was tacitly acknowledged by the then education minister, Nicky Morgan, who suggested grandparents read to children when their parents are too busy. This does not, of course, remotely address the educational apartheid that prevails: children from broken disruptive homes; where perhaps one or both parents may have poor reading skills – and there may not even be a book in the house – are hardly likely to become good readers. The schools know this, as there can be such a wide disparity between the ability levels of each year’s intake. And this simply compounds the difficulties for teachers.
Foster parents can make a real difference to a child’s life chances by supporting literacy
Helping a young child learn to read, or motivating an older child to develop an interest in books, can be invaluable in building a relationship. It can also make all the difference to how that young person goes on to see their own potential and future options in life. Can there be a greater gift?
Government needs to target resources and support – as well as policies around this key area.
All children should have the support and investment to guarantee they have the literacy skills to make the most of, as well having fulfilling lives.
The then Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, gave a speech on 24th September 2015 about her new literacy campaign. This had the lofty goal of aiming to make children in England the best in Europe at reading within five years. Nicky Morgan was replaced by Justine Greening in 2016 so the jury is out as to whether this goal will ever be achieved. It would perhaps be best if we left it to our writers to guide us – as Roald Dahl wrote:
“Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: you are not alone.”
Wanting to foster children? Remember ‘Rainbow Rewards’
The headquarters of Rainbow Fostering is North West London. We pay a bonus of £500, if you refer someone to be a foster carer with our agency. The bonus will be paid once your referral has been approved, with the first placement being made. Existing foster carers, if they wish to transfer to us, will also qualify for a special bonus payment. This will be made for foster carers who are already looking after youngsters on a long-term basis.
And the good news at the end of this particular rainbow…we continue to get an excellent response from children’s authors supporting our Twitter campaign promoting literacy. Reading is perhaps the key life skill: we work hard to hard to promote it; we have some excellent reading recommendations for children and young people on our Facebook page – just visit and scroll down: http://bit.ly/2csBXVd
Keeping you up to date with all the fostering news
We have a special news section on our web site which is regularly updated. Here you will find much of general interest from around the UK to appeal to all who foster. Simply visit http://bit.ly/2e8PrIK