From education to employment

Significance of Workplace Books and World Book Day Heralded by TUC

To devote a single day to a particular cause heralds with it some notion of significance. Inviting the entire planet to participate suggests a magnitude that cannot be overlooked.

With the residue of World Book Day lingering in the public psyche, there is a resonating feeling that the marketing savvy concealed an underlying epidemic concerning the literacy levels for the UK. Recent studies have suggested that under a quarter of workplaces within the UK have book clubs, or anything promoting reading, such as borrowing shelves.

The research, undertaken by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in connection with the Quick-Reads initiative, advocates that an astonishing 9 out of 10 employees questioned for the survey would welcome some form of reading at work. The statistics do make for perturbing reading though. Of the regions interviewed, just 11.4% of workplaces in the East Midlands have book clubs or borrowing shelves.

A National Issue

These statistics are uniform across the board. The West Midlands employees benefit from only a quarter of workplaces with book shelves or borrowing clubs; the South-East comes out nearer the top with just under a fifth; London and Eastern England similarly top the board with a fifth of workplaces creating some environment where reading is taken seriously.

“Some workers clearly do pick up a book during the working day but employers could be doing more to encourage those employees who have lost the reading habit”, explains TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O” Grady. Clearly, the importance of a workforce actively engaged in reading has not been lost: “Employers also get to benefit from a well-read workforce. A book club or bookshelf makes work a bit more fun, and better literacy levels can only boost productivity.”

Positive Welcome on the Horizon

This concern is evident only when we consider the percentage of those employees questioned who would be receptive to these clubs being set up. Of all the regions, approximately half of all candidates across the board would greet the introduction of these clubs positively, suggesting that while literacy levels in the UK are continually being lambasted, there is a real enthusiasm for employees to better their skills.

Recent government statistics would perhaps even venture that literacy levels are finally on the rise. Figures released last month claimed that the percentage of 19 year-olds who gained five “good” G.C.S.E’s moved up to 69.8%, with ministers congratulating themselves on reaching the target a year early. Skills Minister Phil Hope MP towed the party line when he proclaimed that “these figures demonstrate we are making the progress needed to raise skills levels in this country.”

Positives and Negatives

According to their research, an extra 21,000 students met the required five G.C.S.E’s, but, as with many statistics this government has released concerning the state of the nation, they must be properly assessed. A government spokesperson explained how they came to reach the target early, suggesting that the revised figures were not “double-counted”, ensuring that individuals did not have their achievements recorded twice. They took this to imply that educational reforms put in place were obviously working.

However, the shadow vocational education minister John Hayes MP was quick to point out the fallacy hidden in the government line. “The government are congratulating themselves on meeting the target but they have only done so because of a statistical adjustment.” To further the controversy, a Treasury-commissioned review went on to suggest that even if, amongst the evident number-fiddling, the government actually met their targets, millions of adults would still fall short of the literacy levels expected of an 11 year-old.

While we may congratulate the initiatives being proposed, including the recent drive by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) to improve punctuation and grammar, the campaign must be long-term. More importantly, it must address the fundamental principles instead of papering over the cracks.

Vijay Pattni

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