Our CEO, Sue Wilkinson, on the latest report from the Read On. Get On. coalition, which focuses on early communication skills and what we need to do to get children interested in reading from a young age.
This weekend saw the launch of Ready to Read, a new report from the Read On. Get On. campaign coalition which brings together major literacy and communication charities, libraries, teaching unions and publishers. As part of the coalition we've worked on the report with other members including the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Association of Children and Education Librarians (ASCEL).
Every year 148,000 children leave primary school unable to read well, with shocking consequences for their personal development and happiness, and for society as a whole. We know from the reading programmes we run for over 40,000 adults across the UK just what this means for people later on in life and the long term implications it can have for their families. Amy, who completed our Six Book Challenge programme (now called Reading Ahead) for adults who struggle with reading, told us: "You feel stupid when you can't read and write like everyone else but you just try to blank it out." Learning to read, completing the Challenge and starting to use her library has changed Amy's life. She says: "the best thing has been being able to make my granddaughter happy when I read her a story."
The goal of the coalition is to ensure that by 2025 no one has to feel the way Amy felt; to tackle the persistent educational divide which every year prevents thousands of children from reaching their potential. The new report, which focuses on early years language and communication, makes a robust case for prioritising investment in early years provision and building equal access to opportunities. By the age of five, poorer children are already lagging 15 months behind their peers. We all know that this has to change. The report identifies the investment needed to bring about that change.
Calls to action
There are two key calls to action in the report. Firstly, we are asking government and local services to invest further in nursery education so that by 2020 every nursery in England is led by a trained teacher or early years graduate, who can help all children to boost their early language skills before they leave nursery school. We are also asking them to take a detailed look at the way in which early health and education professionals can work together more effectively in their localities, to ensure that children's needs are addressed and that greater priority is given to early language development.
The second call to action is aimed at all of us, because to succeed we need everyone who engages with children to work together to make the whole more than the sum of the many parts. Chapter three of the report explores the different factors that can influence a child's language development, highlighting the critical role parents and carers play, while chapter four examines the potential for early education, health visitors, public libraries and children's centres to support language development and help every child to read well.
Working with libraries
All of the coalition members know the importance of working with parents, carers, health visitors and early education providers to develop and promote our reading programmes. Public libraries also have a vital role to play. At The Reading Agency we work with libraries to develop and deliver all our programmes because they open doors for families no matter what their economic background. Located in every community and with a mission to get and keep people reading, libraries are safe, neutral places where everyone can access free books and be supported and guided by trained professionals.
To achieve the goals set out in this report and make reading accessible to all, it is crucial to make reading fun, something The Reading Agency and libraries' shared programmes all aim to do. Reading should be something families can do together and something which very young children see their older siblings enjoying. The Summer Reading Challenge, which launched in libraries in Scotland on 25 June as the Tesco Bank Summer Reading Challenge Scotland, and which will launch in the rest of the country in July, has been designed to get and keep children reading by making it exciting, by offering a wide range of activities and incentives and by signposting them to the books that they might enjoy. Under-fives can take part in a specially designed mini challenge which runs alongside the main Challenge for four to eleven year-olds.
It's also vital for children of all ages to have powerful role models to inspire them to read. This year the Record Breakers theme is designed to encourage all children to achieve their personal best and in many libraries they will be encouraged to do this by Summer Reading Challenge volunteers. The volunteering programme sees over 9,000 young people working in libraries each year and research has shown just how good they are at helping children to get involved in the Challenge and inspiring them to complete it.
At The Reading Agency we want to work with our partners to make participation in one of our shared reading programmes the start of someone's reading journey rather than an end in itself. So we want to work with the coalition partners to help every family get reading to their children from the earliest age; then we want to ensure that we keep them reading at every stage of their lives. We want the children born as this campaign launches to be the Reading Hackers and World Book Night volunteers of the future: the people who work with us to help more people to read more because, as we all know, everything changes when we read.
Find out more about the Read On. Get On. campaign
Read more about the Summer Reading Challenge
Take a look at the full Ready to Read report