Around 1.5 million children will leave primary school struggling to read by 2025 unless urgent action is taken, according to new research published today by a campaign group set up to eradicate illiteracy.
The report published by Save the Children, on behalf of the Read On Get On campaign, shows that England is one of the most unequal countries in Europe when it comes to children’s reading.
The research suggests the UK economy could be £32bn worse off without action being taken to ensure 11-year-olds leave primary school as more competent readers.
In England, the weakest readers at age 10 are seven years behind the strongest - only Romania has a greater gap. And it is children in the poorest families who are the most likely to be unable to read well by the age of 11, says the charity.
The Read On Get On campaign, a coalition of charities, businesses and educationalists, is calling on all political parties to pledge to support the "bold but achievable" target of making sure every child born this year is able to read well by the time they leave primary aged 11 in 2025.
The campaign defines reading well as reaching national curriculum level 4b - this means children should be able to read words and have a wider understanding of the meaning behind stories. They should also be able to read and understand a range of different books, magazines, newspapers and websites.
Last year, two in five children eligible for free school meals did not reach this level by the time they left primary school, compared to just one in five of those not on free school meals.
“In Britain, primary education for children has been compulsory for at least the last 150 years,” said Dame Julia Cleverdon, former chief executive of Business in the Community and chair of the Read On Get On campaign in the foreword to the report.
“Yet to our shame, thousands of children leave primary school each year unable to read well enough to enjoy reading and to do it for pleasure, despite the best efforts of teachers around the country.”
The report compares the challenge to the eradication of polio and cholera, pointing out it is possible but only with high ambitions and long-term sustained action.
It calculates that if all primary schools were to improve at the same rate as the top 25 per cent, then by 2025 around 97 per cent of pupils would be reading well.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said teachers were making impressive progress but universal literacy would depend on broadening the challenge beyond schools.
“School leaders are at the forefront of improving literacy standards and they’re passionate about helping children become better readers. Read On Get On will provide vital support," he said.
"We can only tackle a challenge like this if everybody works together. This must be beyond politics, a commitment from professionals, parents and the public to achieve the best for our children.”
Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said: “Read On Get On is not just about teachers, charities and politicians – it’s about galvanising the nation so that parents, grandparents and volunteers play their part in teaching children to read.”
The campaign is calling on parents to read with young children for ten minutes a day, urges volunteers to sign up to help children with reading in their local school and calls on schools to lead the way locally.
Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the National Literacy Trust (NLT), said: “This is a game-changing moment for literacy that unites leading experts and forms exciting partnerships to get a new generation reading”.
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