THE BLOG

Why We Need to Get Children Reading

09/09/2014 17:35 BST | Updated 09/11/2014 10:59 GMT

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Arlene Phillips visits a school in London to read 'The Granny Who Wasn't Like Other Grannies' to children for Save the Children's Born to Read.

Credit: Ki Price/Save the Children

I was a war child and I was born into a poor family. Growing up was tough and I know what it is like to struggle. I also know how lucky I am to have got to where I am today. This is why I think if you are in a position to give back, you should. And that is why I have been an ambassador for Save the Children for over two years and why I am supporting the Read On. Get On. campaign.

For me, reading is not only a pleasure and a joy, it is the route to knowledge, to learning and to development. I cannot imagine my life being unable to read. I certainly wouldn't have achieved everything in my life if I hadn't been able to read, so when I learnt that one and a half million children will reach the age of 11 unable to 'read well' by 2025 unless urgent action is taken, I felt I had to get behind the Read On. Get On. campaign.

It is not just a campaign, it is a national mission. A mission that we should all take some responsibility in - we can all help to deliver the campaign aim to get all children reading well by age 11, by 2025.

The Read On. Get On report found disadvantaged children are the worst affected in terms of reading ability, with four in ten not reading well by the age of 11 - almost double the rate of their better off peers. This really struck a chord with me. Probably because of my own childhood experiences.

I recently visited Weston Park primary school in north London with charities Beanstalk and Save the Children, for whom I am an ambassador. Having learnt that almost 1 in 4 children are leaving primary school unable to read well imagine my surprise to find half-a-dozen confident, articulate seven-year-olds clutching their favourite books and keen to tell me all about them, when I walked into the library to meet them.

They had grown from unconfident children struggling to read, to excitable and passionate children who were desperate to show me their newfound reading skills. This was all thanks to a year of one-to-one support - for an hour a week each - by a dedicated reading volunteer via Save the Children's 'Born to Read' programme, in partnership with Beanstalk.

The helper, a receptionist who lives locally, told me the best thing about being a volunteer was seeing the children grow in confidence over the weeks. The volunteers spend quality time with the children, listening to them reading aloud with patience, only prompting them with difficult words when needed. They help them to understand the words and make sure they're pronouncing the words correctly. It's clear to see how much the pupils benefit from the special attention to their reading - they improve really quickly. It's a really positive experience for everyone involved and not many children get that opportunity.

This is a real issue for today's British children and one that has prompted leading charities, teachers, parents and businesses to form the coalition 'Read On. Get On.' The national mission that the coalition has launched today will support parents and teachers to get all 11-year-olds reading well by 2025, meaning they can read, understand and discuss stories, such as Harry Potter.

And this campaign needs all of us to get behind it. Everyone can do something. Just ten minutes a day reading with a child makes a huge difference. So come on grandparents, parents, business, volunteers, teachers and role models like footballers and other celebrities - together we can help crack this problem once and for all!

Save the Children Ambassador Arlene Phillips is supporting the Read On. Get On. campaign. For more information visit www.readongeton.org.uk