Shocking lack of reading skills among London’s children

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 at 5:15 PM

I was a shocked by the Evening Standard’s front-page headline last night – City of Children Who Can’t Read.It doesn’t refer to a city in a developing country but to London. And that’s a disgrace.

One of the facts in the report is that 1 in 3 children say they don’t own a book. I can’t imagine having grown up without books. My parents read to me every night, and Mum patiently taught me to read before I started school. The love of words and reading they encouraged has stayed with me: in fact it’s now how I earn my keep.

OK, I realise I’m very lucky they devoted that time to me (and that they were able to do so of course.) But being able to read isn’t just about loving books and writing. According to The Standard ‘The conveyor belt from illiteracy to exclusion to unemployment and, all too often criminality, is well documented.’  It also quotes that 40% of London firms say their employees have poor literacy skills and report it has a negative impact on their business.

The Standard devoted six pages to the problem last night, and will continue to cover it over the next four days. They will be asking teachers, experts and employers what can be done to tackle this problem which they rightly say, ‘shames this great city.’

Of course The Standard have only focussed on London. I’m sure the problem is widespread throughout the UK. And it’s a complex one. Things have changed since I went to school and I’m not talking about standards or the attitude of teachers towards reading.

So what’s gone wrong?

A good friend of mine has worked in primary education all her career, both as a teacher and latterly as a consultant on the last government’s Primary Framework. The programme promoted consistency of teaching for maths and literacy throughout the country with the aim of raising standards.

“I’m not sure where it breaks down,” she admits. “The emphasis on reading is still very much at the forefront of primary teachers’ minds, because you can’t access the other subjects without it.

“However, society is different; children are different; home-life is different. Children have so many things competing for children’s attention today.

“Both will and skill are intrinsically linked when it comes to reading. If it seems too much like hard work, or an academic pursuit rather than leisure, children won’t do it. Schools really do work hard to engender a love of reading.”

She told me about lots of other great schemes out there that encourage a love of reading. For example, The Book Trust is an independent UK-wide charity dedicated to encouraging people of all ages and cultures to enjoy books.

They have several fabulous bookgifting schemes:

Book Start –  a national programme that gives a free pack of books to babies, toddlers and preschool children. It also produces guidance material for their parents or carers.

Booktime which aims to give a free book pack to every eligible child soon after they first start primary school.

Booked Up is a national programme that aims to give a free book to every child starting secondary school in England. Its goal is to support and encourage reading for pleasure and independent choice.

The Letterbox Club which  focuses on improving the educational outlook for children aged 7-13 in foster families.

There are also lots of great things taking place in libraries to encourage children to read… well for as long as the libraries stay funded and open.

So many fabulous initiatives but as my friend pointed out, ‘you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. But at least if the water’s there in the first place, there’s always a chance.

Getting involved

So what can we do to help? Well, I’m looking for organisations in my area that help to support adults or children with reading. I’m not finding it easy!

The Standard’s report mentions Volunteer Reading Help – a charity that trains adults to provide one-to-one support in schools. There isn’t a branch in my area at the moment but I’d like to find something similar.

I’ve looked on the National Literacy Trust website and there are a couple of links but most organisations seem to want people with teaching qualifications. I’d love to hear from anyone who can point me in the right direction.

Click here to read The Standard’s report online.

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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

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