Are a quarter of 11 year-olds in England unable to read?

Published: 20th Jun 2019

In brief

Claim

A quarter of primary school leavers are unable to read or write properly.

Conclusion

25% of 10 and 11 year-old students in England did not reach the expected level of reading in their SATs and 22% when tested on grammar, punctuation and spelling. There are other measures of literacy which show similar or slightly lower proportions failing to meet the standards.

“A quarter of primary school leavers are unable to read or write properly,”

Jeremy Hunt, 16 June 2019

“Too many children leave school unable to read and write properly… you have nearly 25% of primary school leavers unable to read,”

Jeremy Hunt, 18 June 2019

During his campaign for leadership of the Conservative party, Jeremy Hunt has repeated a claim about the number of children leaving primary school being unable to read or write properly.

”Properly” is the key word in this claim as this statistic isn’t actually about the proportion of primary school leavers who are completely illiterate.

There are different ways of measuring reading and writing aptitude.

In 2018, 75% of year 6 students (10 and 11 year-olds) in England reached the expected standard in their SATs reading test and 78% in grammar, punctuation and spelling.

The Department for Education also publishes statistics on how many year 6 students reach the expected standard according to teacher assessments, as opposed to SATs scores. Teachers assessed 78% of students to have reached at least the expected writing standard and 80% to have reached the expected reading standard.

 SATs scores and teacher assessments are not the only way to measure literacy.  For example, England takes part in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) which measures reading aptitude among year 5  (9 to 10 year-olds) students.

The latest data, from 2016, shows that 86% of these students reached at least the intermediate benchmark for reading.

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