The Reading Agency to pilot integrated local authority model for Summer Reading Challenge 2021

This year, we are pleased to be working with library authority partners across the UK to pilot a local authority partnership model for delivery of the Summer Reading Challenge. The annual reading for pleasure programme delivered in partnership with public libraries reaches over 700,000 children across the UK each year, keeping them reading through the summer with incentives and fun activities. This year’s Wild World Heroes themed Challenge in partnership with WWF will launch in June/July 2021.

Through the local authority pilot work and supported by a new digital Challenge platform, we, alongside our library partners, will be aiming to increase engagement in the Challenge to children who might not normally take part, particularly those in areas of disadvantage. Evidence shows that the Challenge is an effective Covid recovery tool, encouraging reading for pleasure over the summer holidays, building reading skills and confidence, and helping to prevent the ‘dip’ in reading skills while children are out of school.

The pilot involves public libraries working with other local authority partners including education, social care, children’s services and public health to support universal and/or targeted entitlement to summer reading activity through the Summer Reading Challenge via primary schools and other relevant networks. For £1 per child, authorities can provide access to the Challenge plus a range of incentives and rewards to encourage the reading habit – all free to children and families at the point of access. A cohort of library services have been testing the response to the proposed model with local authority partners, with ten authorities securing cross-authority support to pilot the approach in 2021.

The pilot model is based on public library services working at a strategic level across the local authority to support universal access to the benefits of summer reading activity whilst also targeting communities most in need. Evidence shows this engagement is likely to deliver an increase and improvement in reading engagement, motivation, confidence and communication skills1. There is also evidence to show that engagement with the Challenge supports wellbeing and family connectedness2 – vital in a post pandemic landscape where children are estimated to have lost at least two months of learning in reading3 and existing inequalities have been amplified.

Cohort authorities are testing a range of approaches with the aim of expanding Summer Reading Challenge reach and entitlement – library services taking part in the pilot, with support from local authorities, include those in: Oldham, Newcastle, the London boroughs of Newham and Islington, Staffordshire, Leeds, Manchester, Libraries NI (Northern Ireland), Portsmouth and Jersey. Collectively, the services are aiming to reach over 100,000 additional children with the new model.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency said:

“Never has it been more important to support children’s engagement with the proven power of reading and start their reading journeys. Reading not only develops life skills and learning but also supports mental health and well-being. The past year has been particularly challenging for children across the country, and we hope that by working with local authorities on this new integrated approach, the benefits of the Summer Reading Challenge will reach more families than ever.”

Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Manchester City Council’s executive member for Skills, Culture and Leisure said:

“Children have missed out on many opportunities since the pandemic, so we are really pleased to be involved in this pilot which allows us to reach out to more than 16,000 children in 40 of our local primary schools for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, complementing what we already do in our local libraries. The disruption to children’s education during the last year cannot be underestimated and engendering a love of books for pleasure will not just help with educational attainment and development but will help them with the skills they need to succeed not just in school and work but throughout their adult lives.”

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for Learning, Skills and Employment said:

“The Summer Reading Challenge is a fantastic way to engage even more primary school children and their families in reading. Reading is a fundamental skill for children and can provide lots of additional benefits to health and wellbeing, especially as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Not only does reading help with educational attainment but it can provide lots of pleasure and spark imagination. It is great that Leeds will be part of this new model alongside other local authorities to help encourage children who have not previously taken part in the Challenge to enjoy the benefits of reading and provide access to the resources to do so.”

Janene Cox, Assistant Director Culture, Rural and Safer Communities at Staffordshire County Council said:

“Across Staffordshire we recognise the real importance of supporting children’s early speech and language development and we believe that reading with your child is a vital part of this process. As we emerge from the pandemic this has now become even more important; and by piloting the mini Summer Reading Challenge with pre-school children in targeted areas of Staffordshire we are hoping that this will enable our children within these areas to begin their school life with a good level of development in speech and language development and communication skills.”

Deborah Peck, Library Development Officer for Newham Libraries said:

“We here in Newham are really excited to be taking part in the Reading Agency’s pilot project and are delighted to be helping to make reading accessible and access to the Challenge an entitlement for all children. From experience we have learnt here in Newham that the more barriers you remove the easier you make it for all children, particularly children living in more deprived areas, to have the same life chances as those from more affluent backgrounds.

“We are looking forward to welcoming children, some of whom may never have been in a library before, and to engaging families who might not have thought that ‘books and reading’ were for them. We can’t wait to share with children the amazing journey that awaits them as they discover what sort of reader they are, a journey which we hope will last a life time.
We hope that this year’s pilot will have a huge impact on children’s well-being and our increased engagement with primary schools will continue to be a flourishing partnership through which our children and families will thrive.”

Cllr Asima Shaikh, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Inclusive Economy and Jobs and the council’s lead on libraries, said:

“Reading is vital for children’s development, and solid reading skills are a foundation that helps children unlock opportunities throughout their lives. This is why, for Islington Council, reading is an important building block in making the borough a fairer place, where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential and enjoy a good quality of life. Islington has been steadfast in keeping our libraries open despite ongoing cuts to council budgets, and are delighted to be pioneers of this innovative work linking libraries with schools and children’s services.”

For more information, visit

Find out how we did in 2020…

1. The Reading Agency (2019), Summer Reading Challenge Annual Report; Kennedy and Bearne (2009), Summer Reading Challenge Impact Research Report, UKLA; Chambers (2011), Tell Me: Children, Reading & Talk – with The Reading Environment (Thimble Press)

2. The Reading Agency (2019), Summer Reading Challenge Annual Report; The Reading Agency, Summer Reading Challenge 2020; Clark and Teravainen-Goff (2018), Mental wellbeing, reading and writing, National Literacy Trust

33. Renaissance Learning and Education Policy Institute (2021), Understanding progress in the 2020/21 academic year, DfE; Rose et al. (2021)

The Reading Agency

Join our mailing list

Get our newsletters to stay up to date with programme news, resources, news and more.

Back to Top