Literacy matters … and we’re still not doing enough to improve it

Image by Elke Wetzig under Creative Commons License, via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Elke Wetzig under Creative Commons License, via Wikimedia Commons

By James Carson

Three new reports published in September have highlighted the significance of literacy in our lives.

The first report, from the National Literacy Trust (NLT), discusses how low levels of literacy can contribute to health inequalities, poverty and crime. Among the findings, the NLT notes that:

  • Those with lower levels of literacy are more likely to be obese, smoke, and drink heavily;
  • Those with low literacy are more likely to live in disadvantaged housing conditions and more deprived areas;
  • Young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) are 20 times more likely to commit a criminal offence.

Another study, from Save the Children UK, reports that disadvantaged 11-year-olds are as much as seven years behind their more able peers for reading, making Britain one of the most unequal countries in the western world.  To coincide with the report’s publication, Save the Children has launched the Read on. Get On campaign to ensure every child born this year is reading well by the time they are 11 in 2025. Aside from the benefits to individual children, the charity says that a successful campaign would see the British economy benefit to the tune of £32 billion.

The new Secretary of State for Education in England, Nicky Morgan, has endorsed the campaign. But Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children stressed the need for wider involvement:

“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. We want every child to be given a fair and equal chance to learn to read well, regardless of their background.”

Low levels of literacy among adults are also raising concerns. A recent House of Commons, Business, Innovations and Skills Committee report noted that successive governments had failed to address the “alarmingly high” proportion of low literacy and numeracy skills among adults. The Committee underlined the implications of basic skills deficiencies:

“Problems with reading, writing and maths have a huge impact on people’s daily lives, including getting and keeping a job, understanding bills, forms and documents, and guiding children through education.”

The Committee called on the government to launch a high-profile campaign to boost adult reading skills, and expressed concern at funding cuts for literacy schemes with a good track record of success, such as the TUC’s Unionlearn.

Further reading:

The Idox Information Service has a range of research reports, articles and case studies on the theme of literacy. Items we’ve recently summarised for our database include:

PIAAC results: need for new approaches in improving adult literacy

Children’s and young people’s reading in 2013: findings from the 2013 National Literacy Trust’s annual survey

Reading Partners: the implementation and effectiveness of a one-on-one tutoring program delivered by community volunteers

Reading at the transition: interim evidence brief

Reading counts: why English and maths skills matter in tackling homelessness

Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy 2013 (numeracy)

N.B. abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service.

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