25% of children at age 11 are not reaching the expected levels of literacy for their age. If you break this figure down into demographics, the highest number is white British boys in the low-income bracket (45%). The gender difference is one of the widest in the developed world and one of the things I found most shocking was the variance in language development of children aged three years, with the gap between the poorest families and those in the high income bracket being 17 months. There's more but I'll leave you to find that out ...
All these translate into problems in adulthood and impact on poverty, crime, well-being and unemployment. Another statistic for you to think about: 47% of adults with low literacy levels have problems reading the instructions on their medication.
And, as the report says, after 150 years of compulsory primary education, it cannot be business as usual because that’s not working. We are failing our children.
So what is the answer? Fortunately the report realises that this problem needs to be addressed regardless of which political party is in power and it has come up with four key areas of focus:
· To create and celebrate the enjoyment of reading in all our communities
· To support very young children in their language development before they start school
· To provide support and information for parents
· To support and enable teachers and schools
The aim of the campaign is to have all 11 years olds at a literacy level of 4b by the year 2025; it is an ambitious project but one that needs to be tackled and a paper is being produced ahead of the general election detailing what action is needed to address these four points. One thing I hope is recognised is the important role that professional librarians and libraries can play in this campaign. Librarians have skills and expertise that can feed into every single one of those four drivers; indeed many of us are already working in these areas from delivering rhyme times to babies in public libraries to promoting reading for pleasure across the school curriculum. To ignore this would be to waste a valuable and unique resource and, if we seriously want to address the issue of low literacy levels, then we should all be working together.
A final note: the report talks about the fact that it isn’t just disadvantaged children and adults who are affected by low literacy levels but that there is an economic cost to the country and new analysis has been carried out to assess this. These results show, based on a cautious scenario, that if the UK had taken action in recent decades to ensure children were reading well by age 11, then the GDP could have been around £13.8 billion higher in 2014, with an optimistic scenario putting it at £18.4 billion. The figures are extrapolated to 2025 with the cautious estimate being £32.1 billion and the optimistic, £42.9 billion.
I wonder how much it would cost to ensure that every child had access to both public and school libraries with professional librarians, working together with parents and schools to create a generation of literate children?