Gazette & Herald Column: Our children are rising up the rankings for literacy

It’s December now, and that can only mean one thing: the start of Advent and the countdown to Christmas! I started my festive season at the Omnes ad Unum group’s annual candlelit Bazaar and Christmas Tree Festival in Devizes. There were a huge number of wonderfully decorated trees, including a Parliament themed one from my office and the Community Tree with decorations from each tree, and it was very difficult to have to pick winners. The trees are in in St John’s Church in Devizes until 6 January, and I would encourage anyone who isn’t yet feeling the festive spirit to go along and have a look (and a mince pie), with proceeds going to 10 local children’s charities.

Westminster, meanwhile, has been dominated once again by Brexit, with talks on the first round of negotiations nearing their conclusion on Monday, with just a couple of issues preventing the deal being signed off. However, I am confident that, with talks set to resume later this week and a common understanding on many of the main issues, we will be able to conclude negotiations positively and move onto the question of future trade arrangements in the New Year.

However, despite what you may think from reading the papers, Brexit is not the only political activity going on. This week, as part of the Industrial Strategy, my department announced a transformative sector deal with the life sciences sector to modernise the industry, boost large and small businesses, and ensure the UK is at the forefront of developing innovative treatments and medical technologies. Innovation in medical technology and healthcare really has the potential to transform the way we live, and the UK is ideally placed to do so, with a number of world-class life sciences clusters across the country.

Another good news story this week came from new figures which show England has risen up the international rankings for child literacy, thanks to reforms introduced in 2010 that focussed on using phonics to teach young children to read. In 2012, just 58% of six-year-olds passed the new Phonics Screening Check, but this year that number rose to 81%, placing England joint 8th of 50 in the international rankings. Thanks to the fantastic work of our primary school teachers, 154,000 more six-year-olds are on track to be fluent readers this year than in 2012. I taught my three children to read using phonics, so I know the hard work that teachers have put into these fantastic results, and have written to our local primary teachers to thank and congratulate them on the huge progress that has been made.