5.1million people in England don't have the reading and writing skills expected of an 11-year-old. This means that they will be held back at every stage of their life: as a child they won't be able to do well at school, as a young adult they will be locked out of the job market, and on becoming a parent they won't be able to support their child's learning - so the cycle continues for another generation.
For the past 20 years, the government has looked to address England's widening literacy gap through national strategies, but these strategies have failed to raise literacy levels in the most deprived areas of the country. So how do we reach the children and families who are most in need of support?
New analysis published today by the National Literacy Trust and Experian shows that England's literacy crisis is intensely local and deeply entrenched, highlighting that we must now move away from national strategies to more targeted local solutions.
By bringing together Experian's expertise around data analysis with the National Literacy Trust's knowledge of the characteristics most associated with low literacy, we have created a new measure of literacy vulnerability for every electoral ward and parliamentary constituency in England. Our analysis found that 86% of constituencies have at least one ward with serious literacy problems; showing that low literacy is not limited to regions with blanket levels of low income, high unemployment and social deprivation.
Every community has different literacy needs, depending on the prevalence of social and economic factors closely linked with low literacy amongst its population; such as levels of education, income and unemployment. By identifying the areas with the most acute literacy problems, we are able to help MPs, local authorities and commissioners pinpoint where the greatest level of support is required.
The National Literacy Trust has a strong track record of helping local communities tackle their unique literacy challenges. We have developed a robust model of National Literacy Trust Hubs which help to raise literacy levels in some of the most deprived areas of the UK, where literacy problems are entrenched, intergenerational and seriously impacting on people's lives. We currently run Hubs in Middlesbrough, Bradford, Peterborough, Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent.
In these areas, we have brought together resources from community, business, education, local authority and charity partners to help identify where the most serious literacy issues lie and develop targeted strategies to reach the children and families most in need of support.
Local solutions work. In Middlesbrough, we worked with local partners to identify the greatest literacy challenges their population faced. We discovered that children were falling really far behind when it came to school readiness. Through a targeted programme of activity with local children under five and their families, more children are now achieving a good level of development by the time they start primary school; closing the gap with the national average from 22.6% in 2013 to just 6.3% in 2015.
By sharing our new analysis with every MP in England, we hope to empower local authorities, services and business to make the most of the opportunities they have to raise literacy levels in their community. If we take coordinated action at a local level to drive up literacy levels, we can support increased educational attainment and employability skills, and improve health outcomes and social capital.
For more information on the National Literacy Trust Hubs, click here
For more information on the National Literacy Trust and Experian's new analysis, click here