University of Sheffield: ’1/5 of school-leavers functionally illiterate’ – and the definition of ‘functionally’

May 10, 2010 at 11:22 am 3 comments

by Alec Patton

Saturday’s Guardian reported that a team of researchers at the University of Sheffield have found that 22% of 16- to 19-year-olds leave school ‘functionally innumerate’, while 17% leave school ‘functionally illiterate’.

From where I”m sitting, I can hear the shouts of ‘back to basics’ and ‘raise standards’ already. But anyone who reads this article and thinks rote learning and standardised tests will fix the problem needs to work on their own functional literacy – because, as the article explains, the functionally illiterate

cannot handle much more than straightforward questions. It is unlikely, or even impossible, that they will understand allusion and irony,

In other words, ‘functional literacy’ consists of exactly those skills which are most difficult to acquire by rote learning, and measure through standardised testing.

It’s not time to go back to basics, it’s time to go beyond them.


Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Asher Jacobsberg  |  May 10, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Is the title a Freudian slip or intentional?

  • 2. alecpatton  |  May 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    It was one of those errors that make blogs so charming – but it’s now been corrected. Well spotted, Asher!

    • 3. Asher Jacobsberg  |  May 10, 2010 at 8:43 pm

      Oh, I thought maybe it was an allusion I wasn’t getting. I was looking forward to the ‘reveal’!


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