EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou visits London

Labour Party

Visiting London last week, EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou praised the Evening Standard’s Get London Reading campaign. Mrs Vassiliou told the Standard: “In Europe we have a big problem with one in five 15 year olds reading at a very low level. Literacy is not just about reading, it is the foundation for life…..The Evening Standard campaign is unique in that it is the only newspaper-led literacy initiative in Europe.”

My report on early school leaving, recently agreed by the European Parliament Culture and Education Committee, is obviously relevant to the Standard’s campaign. Lack of literacy skills make leaving school without qualifications much more likely and then hinder the young person’s job prospects. We all need to be able to read and write. Since many years ago I volunteered for the On the Move adult literacy campaign, I have a special interest in this.

As part of her visit to London, Mrs Vassiliou spoke at WorldSkills 2011, the largest gathering of trainees and apprentices in the world, held this year at the Excel Centre in Newham. Mrs Vassiliou spoke not only about the importance of vocational training but also pointed out the mismatch between educational outcomes and employers’ expectations.   

I was privileged to join her on the platform for the discussion panel and to back up the Commissioner in her call for improved language teaching in Britain. Another panel member, rugby player Simon Hunt, supported us and told the audience that living in France for three years had widened his perspective as well as providing a valuable skill. 

 Posts about the appalling level of foreign language learning and the inability of most Britons to speak anything other than English have regularly appeared on this blog. Having the major international language as your mother tongue is no excuse. Native English speakers who master other languages open up a whole range of employment options for themselves as well as gaining insights into another country and culture. Our monolingualism sells us short. Let’s make a big effort to do better.