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Get London Reading!

Boris Johnson has now announced that he is backing the London Evening Standard’s Get London Reading campaign.

Nationally, one in five children leave primary school at the age of 11 unable to read properly. In London, this statistic increases to a staggering 25%.

Geordie Greig, Editor, says, “We are joining forces with Volunteer Reading Help, a charity that trains adults to go into London’s most deprived primary schools and provides one-on-one reading support for struggling pupils.”

The National Literacy Trust explores the impact of low literacy levels on adults. They find the term’ illiterate’ less useful than ‘functionally literate’. “Around 16 per cent, or 5.2 million adults in England, can be described as “functionally illiterate”. Of these approximately 5.2 million, around 3.5 million are at the upper end of the scale and have weaknesses in particular areas, rather than being at the same level for all areas of literacy. Most feel more comfortable with reading than with writing. Around 5 per cent, or 1.7 million adults in England, have literacy levels below those expected of an 11-year-old. The would not pass an English GCSE.” They take pains to point out that the term ‘reading age’ can be misleading. “Reading age does not correspond to thinking or comprehension. It is more useful to describe readability levels rather than reading age.”

However we view the issue, what is obvious is that many areas of employment would not be open to persons with lower literacy levels. Morrisons supermarket, who promised to give jobs to local youngsters when it opened a new store in the employment blackspot of Ordsall, Salford, sent three quarters of their new recruits for three to six months ‘remedial pre-job training’ on finding that they lacked basic skills. The same adults may also struggle to support their children with reading and homework, or perform everyday tasks.

Ofsted have produced a report concerning barriers to literacy based on research conducted by visiting pre-school care and schools identified as being excellent in order to see how they are succeeding where others have failed. Some of their findings seem obvious.

Key to success in early education was storytelling: practitioners who were highly skilled at telling stories both with and without books and sometimes without words. Children were captivated. When encouraged to re-tell stories using props they frequently embellished the stories. This was seen to be a key factor in increasing vocabulary. Unfortunately, lack of vocabulary was one of the main barriers in literacy. Some children could read certain words but were simply unable to understand their meaning, even when it was explained in the most basic terms, because their experience of life was so limited.

An insight was provided as to the value of those targets we always hear about. The school’s expectations of their pupils was also a key factor. Those schools that set the same high expectations for all achieved better results. Conversely whose who made allowances for certain groups of pupils tradtionally seen as under-acheivers achieved lower results.

The most successful providers emphasised that there was no ‘eureka’ moment, no specific or unusual practice. Rather, they monitored progress, identified weaknesses and addressed them, sticking with what worked. What worked was usually practice of reading skills: discreet half-hourly sessions, either on a one-to-one basis or in small groups, on a daily basis. And this is where volunteer readers will really come to the fore.

However, despite their successes, the providers seldom succeeded in narrowing the attainment gap for all groups of pupils. Inspectors did not find any examples of either primary or secondary schools focusing specifically on engaging the families of White working class pupils (measured by those who received free school meals), despite the fact that this group consistently features among the worst-performing. Even providers  judged to be outstanding acknowledged that ‘there is still more to do’. The sad fact remains that schools are up against it. Children who performed worst came from families where there were low aspirations, few set routines and a lack of clear boundaries for children’s behaviour. Children tended to have poor attendance records and there was a reluctance by parents and carers to engage with the school.

More volunteers and more donations are needed. To be part of the solution or for further information, visit