(Librarian Lynn Goodman and Foundation Learning Lecturer Angela Lenton receiving their gold award from Six Book Challenge Ambassador Adele Parks for achieving 215 completers at Northampton College - photo by Tom Parkes.)
Minister for Skills Matthew Hancock MP today (28 November) joined writers Andy McNab and Adele Parks to push for a two-fold increase in the use of The Reading Agency's Six Book Challenge adult literacy programme in the next five years, to help tackle the UK's continuing skills deficit. Their call was backed by the scheme's growing range of supporters including the TUC, Quick Reads and new partners Rugby League World Cup 2013 and mobile network operator Three.
5.1m people have low literacy skills in England alone, and the charity is developing creative new approaches to help them become confident and enthusiastic readers, aiming to get 50,000 people taking part in the Six Book Challenge by 2017. The Minister was one of the speakers at an event to celebrate the scheme's first five years. This year 23,500 adults registered for the Six Book Challenge, a 30% increase on 2011. Ninety per cent of respondents in a Six Book Challenge survey said they felt more confident about reading after taking part.
Matthew Hancock MP said: "Too many people in this country lack the basic literacy skills they need to get on in life. To tackle this, we are making sure all 16-19 year olds in full time education and training continue to work towards GCSE grades A*-C in English and Maths if they haven't already achieved this by the age of 16. We are also funding adults to get a GCSE in English and Maths if they missed out the first time around.
"I welcome The Reading Agency's campaign which is not only helping people to learn to read, it's also giving them a desire to read. By improving the literacy and numeracy skills of the nation, we can transform people's prospects, create a more highly skilled workforce and boost economic growth."
The Reading Agency launched the Six Book Challenge in 2008 as a simple but powerful way to encourage less confident readers to develop a new reading habit. Participants in an ever-growing variety of settings - such as workplaces, further education and sixth form colleges, public libraries, army education centres, prison and youth offender institutions - are invited to pick six reads of their choice and record their reading in a diary in order to receive a certificate. (See "Notes to editors" for more information.)
During 2012, 45 organisations that ran the Six Book Challenge achieved more than 50 completers and four organisations - Brent and Blaenau Gwent library services, Northampton College (pictured at top of page) and HMP Pentonville (pictured left) - boasted over 150 each. Representatives from public libraries, colleges, prisons and workplaces were at the event to receive awards and hear Adele Parks and Andy McNab - from The Reading Agency's new team of ambassadors - congratulate them and pledge their ongoing support for the Challenge.
Adele Parks said: "I've met hundreds of emergent adult readers in libraries, workplaces and in learning centres during my time as Ambassador for the Six Book Challenge and I've found the experience extremely humbling. It's been a pleasure watching people discover reading for the first time and I've encountered a lot of under-confident and disadvantaged people who, by improving their reading skills, have drastically improved their opportunities in life."
Andy McNab said: "I'm looking forward to supporting the Six Book Challenge during 2013. Reading changed my life and I've already seen that the Reading Agency's scheme has done the same for other people. Let's make sure that thousands more get the same chance to take charge of their own lives."
New partners for 2013 will take the scheme to new audiences. Mobile network Three will be working with The Reading Agency to develop a pioneering digital platform for the Six Book Challenge. This will allow less confident readers a unique opportunity to search online for reading recommendations to suit their ability and interests and share views about what they read. "Three's network was built for the internet, and we're committed to doing all we can to help people make the most of it. Poor literacy is a real barrier for lots of people and stops them taking advantage of vital tools like the internet. The Six Book Challenge is a great way to get people reading and we're pleased to be involved," said Three's corporate affairs director, Hugh Davies.
Partnership with the Rugby League World Cup 2013 will promote specially branded Six Book Challenge materials in professional and amateur rugby league clubs in the build-up to the championship next autumn. Speaking at today's event, Rugby League World Cup 2013 marketing manager Mark Foster revealed top England player Jamie Jones-Buchanan as the newest Six Book Challenge supporter. Mark said: "This will be the next major sporting event to be hosted in the UK after the Olympics and we want to use it to inspire, motivate and educate as many people as possible. The Six Book Challenge will form a part of our Education Programme, one of our five community initiatives that we will be rolling out in 2013."
The Reading Agency will also continue to work closely with the TUC's learning arm unionlearn, which has kindly supported today's event, and with the annual Quick Reads initiative which will be launching six new titles in February 2013.
Genevieve Clarke, The Reading Agency's adult literacy specialist, said: "The first five years of the Six Book Challenge have proved that reading can turn people's lives around. Today we're recognising the fabulous achievement of organisations across the UK who have made this happen and committing to reach even more people as part of The Reading Agency's plan for the next five years."
Nicola Moses, 40, from the London Borough of Brent recently completed the Six Book Challenge. She said: "The Six Book Challenge brought back to me how much reading is knowledge, something we need more of within our communities. My personal life is now richer and wiser, with a new career vision in teaching in sight, and a greater understanding of my son's reading needs."
All photos above are by Tom Parkes. For full sized images including images of the awards ceremony, contact Genevieve Clarke on email@example.com.
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Notes to editors:
- The Reading Agency is an independent charity with a mission to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. It is funded by the Arts Council, and has a formal partnership with public library services. To mark its tenth birthday The Reading Agency announced a plan to create ten million more reading opportunities by 2017.
- Recent Government figures show that 15% (5.1 million) of the working age population in England are still at or below the literacy level expected of an 11 year old. See www.bis.gov.uk/policies/further-education-skills for 2011 Skills for Life Survey: Headline findings.