BBC Scotland’s wilful mis-represenation on literacy levels



This is a short comment on the above from reader Alasdair MacDonald which I think needs greater prominence so I’ve posted it as a ‘special’.

‘Of course the BBC Scotland continues to plug the failing Scotland line with a report about the literacy levels of 16 year olds. This was wilfully misinterpreted. The report actually asked 16 year olds what kind of fiction they chose to read for personal reasons. Some of the books chosen were rated as being able to be read by 13 year olds. Now, of course, we are all pretty eclectic in our reading choices – I do not always choose books that have reading levels suitable for 70 year-olds. Where the wilful mispresentation came was in shouting that this showed ‘Scottish 16 year-olds have the literacy levels of 13 year-olds’. NAW IT DISNAE!! The research was carried out by a private company, by a Professor at Dundee U. He and an author who works in Scottish schools regularly debated the issue and she spiritedly refuted his arguments. She was also backed up by vox pops of a number of 16 year-olds who were asked about what they read. I felt that the Professor did not argue his case well, but made sweeping generalities.’

10 thoughts on “BBC Scotland’s wilful mis-represenation on literacy levels

  1. Bryan Weir February 23, 2018 / 10:14 am

    The same guy has done similar jobs on Wales, I think NI and also the UK in general.He really has his finger on the pulse. ;o)

    Liked by 1 person

      • Bryan Weir February 24, 2018 / 9:29 am

        I understand that the original report came from Professor Keith Topping of the University of Dundee.


  2. Ludo Thierry February 23, 2018 / 7:42 pm

    Hi John – I didn’t hear or read the beeb Jockland piece myself but found a bit in the Courier. Apparently the chap’s name is Professor Keith Topping (of Dundee University’s school of education and social work).

    The Courier piece is also a bit of a curious conflation. It clearly identifies the study/research/report (whatever? – it includes each of these descriptors) as being UK (and Ireland) wide but then talks about “..The reading habits of nearly 30,000 Scottish schoolchildren were collected as part of the research, and then analysed by Professor Keith Topping ..”

    The confusion is fairly evident from the headline down:

    Damning report reveals reading standards plummet once children reach high school (UK? Scotland? Everywhere? – unclear)

    The UK-wide study of children’s reading habits has found that secondary school pupils are not reading challenging enough books.(Ah – here we are – it’s to do with the ‘UK’.)

    The reading habits of nearly 30,000 Scottish schoolchildren were collected as part of the research, and then analysed by Professor Keith Topping of Dundee University’s school of education and social work. (Oops – no – it must be to do with Scotland really – after all it mentions a specific ‘Scottish’ number).

    In total, the What Kids Are Reading report examined the reading habits of nearly one million children across the UK and Ireland.(Cripes – suddenly there is a much larger number mentioned – and Ireland seems to be in on the act as well? What is going on here? Now – let me do my sums – if 1M children were examined “..across the UK and Ireland..” shouldn’t more than 30,000 of them have been in Scotland? – hmmmn – I need to think about this).

    Data for the study was compiled by education assessment provider Renaissance UK. (I do hope things are more clearly organised, identified and signposted in the ‘actual’ data?)

    This decline exists among both boys and girls and across all parts of the UK. (Ah – we’re back to the UK again – wonder what happened to Ireland though?)

    Professor Topping said: “The uniformity of the fall in literacy levels is striking as it cuts across boys, girls and all parts of the UK. (Anyway – it seems to be uniform “..across ..all parts of the UK.” – Whit – has Ireland escaped again? Worry not though – right on cue – next up is britnat Labour genius Iain Gray to dispense his SNP Baaaaad wisdom):

    Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “The SNP promised that education would be the top priority, but instead budgets have been slashed and pupils have lost out.” (It’s all been too much for poor auld Iain Gray – His dilithium crystals couldnae take it Cap’n!).

    Certainly articles constructed as magnificently as The Courier’s piece are likely to induce “..reading standards to plummet..” amongst any Scottish school pupils who are unlucky enough to come across them!


  3. Ludo Thierry February 23, 2018 / 8:08 pm

    Since we’re on matters cultural – did anyone notice this report on beeb Wales site? : (I don’t know about anyone else? – but I reckon the SNP Scottish Govt should be appointing this chap as Scotland’s Cultural Supremo mighty pronto):

    National Museum Wales head accused of ‘rant against Britishness’

    The head of National Museum Wales has been accused of a “rant against Britishness” over comments he made in a speech at a tourism event.

    David Anderson said Britain was not “Great” – and claimed the Brexit vote was “madness”.

    The Welsh Conservatives say he is a public servant and should remain neutral.

    Mr Anderson said in response it was the role of museums to pose challenging questions and encourage debate.

    In a speech about promoting tourism after Brexit, the director general said he never wanted to stand beneath another banner that says ‘Britain is Great’.
    He called the words a lie – and a notion that contributed to the “collective delusional madness” of Brexit.

    Mr Anderson said the whole industry should “cease to peddle falsehoods of British ‘greatness’.

    Mr Anderson would not be interviewed but said in a statement it was the role of museums to pose challenging questions and stimulate debate.
    “It was in this context that I put forward the argument at the conference that we urgently need a new and more contemporary definition of Britishness in which Wales’ voice is much more strongly heard, and that reflects the diversity of cultures and identities of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom,” he said.

    (The tories, naturally, tried to ‘rubbish’ him): The Conservatives also said the museum had had its problems with income streams and visitor numbers.

    (The tories – as ever – we’re talking a crock): The museum took issue with visitor number figures and said it was on track to break records in 2017-18.

    One couldn’t quite imagine the late dear old Timothy Clifford coming out with something quite as bold as this could one? The late Timothy seemed to view his huge Scottish job as some kind of ‘holding pen’ until ‘something ‘ turned up in London. I found another piece about David Anderson from 2014 ( a significant year I think we’d all agree) where he blogged thus:

    “We are in the second decade of the 21st century, but we still retain the highly centralised, 19th century, semi-colonial model that the arts should be concentrated in London, and that funding London is synonymous with serving the English regions and the nations of the UK. For Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland this undermines the principle, embedded in law, that culture is a devolved responsibility. It is a constitutional tension that remains unresolved.

    “All the evidence shows that concentration of power and funding in London is, in policy terms, a failure.”

    Surely to goodness these kind of refreshing views would ginger up the Arts Establishment (bureaucracy and business) here in Scotland – Let’s get the guy up here, NOW!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tudor Williams Rees February 27, 2018 / 12:19 am

      Updating Museums
      Museums throughout Britain are having to review their work in presenting a balanced view of history, and this means rethinking a lot of things that stem from the jingoism of the past.
      If we look at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, they became conscious of the out-dated way they displayed the British Empire in the past, and embarked on a radical reassessment of history.
      On Joseph Chamberlain they say:–
      “…Chamberlain is comparable to Cecil Rhodes in his unwavering belief in imperial expansion and the superiority of the ‘British race’. We gave him room to explain his imperialist, racist ideology, exploring how his social reforms in Birmingham were made at the expense of the colonies.”
      [The museum itself sits in Chamberlain Square.]

      “… Decolonising is deeper than just being represented. When projects and institutions proclaim a commitment to ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’ or ‘decoloniality’ we need to attend to these claims with a critical eye. Decoloniality is a complex set of ideas – it requires complex processes, space, money, and time, otherwise it runs the risk of becoming another buzzword, like ‘diversity’. As interest in decolonial thought grows, we must beware of museums’ and other institutions’ propensity to collect and exhibit because there is a danger (some may argue an inevitability) that the museum will exhibit decoloniality in much the same way they display/ed black and brown bodies as part of Empire’s “collection”. I do not want to see decolonisation become part of Britain’s national narrative as a pretty curio with no substance – or, worse, for decoloniality to be claimed as yet another great British accomplishment: the railways, two world wars, one world cup, and decolonisation.”

      The term Great Britain has nothing to do with how wonderful Britain is, [or was]:–
      Google gives :-
      Ptolemy referred to the larger island as great Britain (megale Britannia) and to Ireland as little Britain (mikra Brettania) in his work, Almagest (147–148 AD). Later on it was called Brittanie Majore to distinguish it from Brittany in France, which was also mostly inhabited by Celts.”
      We should be grateful to David Anderson for embarking on this difficult process. [And we must forgive him supporting Ireland in the Rugby International on the 24th Feb 2018!]


  4. Ludo Thierry February 27, 2018 / 7:26 pm

    Hi Tudor – what an interesting response – I’m glad I came back to double-check this thread. In passing, I was advised many years ago that Tudor and Thierry are versions of the same ancient name – I don’t know if you have heard similar?

    Re. David Anderson supporting Ireland in the rugby Six Nations I daresay his Belfast birthplace has a stronger pull than his Edinburgh Uni education or Welsh domicile? – In terms of support for a sports team I suspect we’d all understand his motivations.

    Interesting points re. decoloniality (I believe I’ve picked up a new word to boot!). Indeed, it should not come about that ‘decoloniality’ be “..claimed as yet another great British accomplishment..” ( A wee bit in the way the great works of Wilberforce has – to a large degree – let the UK self-history ‘off’ from their slavery exploits – to replace it with ‘The White Man’s Burden’ mythology.

    In fairness to David Anderson I suspect his protest at the application of the usage ‘Great Britain’ was – in the context of the Promoting Tourism after brexit event he was attending was, indeed, using ‘Great Britain’ as a Political/Social descriptor rather than the,merely, ‘geographic’ descriptor of Brittanie Major. Your general point about the use of ‘Great Britain’ is, however, undoubtedly the case.

    Pleasure to make your acquaintance and hope to come across your most erudite contributions in many future threads.


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