How a measurement-driven system is suffocating Literacy

by 10 Aug, 2018

This is the first of a two-part post on the problem Literacy faces in an education system that is dominated by the need to measure and compare. The second post will look at the effect this system has on children having a voice. What does such a culture mean for children’s self-confidence to try new things, develop their own thoughts, think critically and express themselves creatively?

Creativity in writing is so important for many reasons. It is a way to express ourselves, to explore our world and our experiences, as well as empathising with others by telling a story from someone else’s perspective. It allows us to imagine new worlds and different ways of being, to challenge what we see as being wrong in the world and to write the changes we want to see. It helps develop important communication skills for all areas of life and can help us work through difficult emotions and experiences. There is so much that creativity with words opens up.

To develop creative writing we need space to grow and to experiment without fear; trying new things with words requires confidence and the freedom to express ourselves.

In the current education system a lot is made of holding teachers and schools ‘accountable’ for children’s learning. Accountability comes through providing ‘evidence’ of progress. This evidence is checked against a standardised set of levels and is ordered and compared through league tables.

Instead of creating a space of freedom and exploration, this system creates anxiety and constraints.

In order to compare children with standardised levels and with other children, a child’s learning has to be described using measurable data. This kind of data can only describe a narrow set of things and so Literacy gets reduced to that which can be easily measured.

There is ever-increasing pressure to provide more and more data in order to have more evidence and accountability and to track progress. This means the types of learning which cannot be measured this way are marginalised and children are missing out on developing their creativity. We have seen this with the decrease in creative subjects such as art and music, and with Literacy becoming a subject that is often more about spelling and grammar than artistic expression.

Literacy becomes a checklist – a set of targets to tick off with correct answers to find. Learners work towards these targets and pass or fail them by a set of criteria someone has already decided. When this learning culture dominates Literacy, children begin to lose the chance to develop their ability to think creatively and communicate confidently – one of the most vital parts of any education.

As educators and parents we need to fight for creative space where there is room for the individual and for imagination; a space where children can feel free and confident to experiment; a space free from standards and targets and right or wrong responses; a space where they can express themselves without being measured and compared.

The second part of this post will look at the effect all this has on the voice of the child – their ability, freedom and confidence to think and express their own opinions and experiences.


Rachel Valler is the Founder of Wild Literacy.

Get Wild Literacy

Do you work with children who need space to explore their creativity with words? A subscription to Wild Literacy provides a wide-range of creative writing and literacy skills activities, with new content added every month.