Social mobility tsar casts doubt on literacy and numeracy targets

Katharine Birbalsingh tells MPs she is 'not sure' how targets set in recent white papers will be met

Katharine Birbalsingh tells MPs she is 'not sure' how targets set in recent white papers will be met

The government’s own social mobility tsar has cast doubts on targets to boost literacy and numeracy, saying she is “not sure” how they will be achieved.

Katharine Birbalsingh told the Commons science and technology committee today that the recent schools and levelling up white papers set “lovely targets”, but warned issues with teacher supply and school “culture” needed to be resolved to meet them.

The levelling-up white paper set a target of 90 per cent of children leaving primary school at the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030. Currently only 65 per cent meet this standard.

The schools white paper added another target – to increase the national average GCSE grade in English language and maths from 4.5 to 5, also by 2030.

Birbalsingh, the chair of the Social Mobility Commission and headteacher of Michaela Community School in north London, said the “devil’s in the detail in how you actually achieve those targets”.

She said there were “difficulties” in raising GCSE attainment.

“Things like teacher shortages, and the culture…in our society and in our schools generally, where there isn’t enough authority in the classroom from the teacher. Those things need to be addressed and they can take some time to address.

“So I suppose I worry about the targets that we’ve announced we’re going to achieve, but I’m not sure how we’re going to achieve them. That’s my worry really.”

Girls don’t want to do ‘hard maths’

During this morning’s hearing, which was about diversity and inclusion in STEM, Birbalsingh also claimed low uptake of physics among girls was because they would rather not do the “hard maths” associated with the subject.

At Michaela, girls make up just 16 per cent of physics GCSE entries, she said.

“I just think they don’t like it. There’s a lot of hard maths in there that I think they would rather not do.”

But Birbalsingh said her school would not seek to encourage more girls to take physics.

“We’re certainly not out there campaigning for more girls to do physics. We wouldn’t do that and I wouldn’t want to do that because I don’t mind that there’s only 16 per cent of them taking…I mean I want them to do what they want to do.”

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