The children's publishing industry is booming, offering adventures, sagas, fairy-tales and imaginative slices of everyday life to young readers from childhood to teenage years. The fast-growing digital sector provides exciting opportunities for interaction with characters, and thoughtfully designed online stories and games offer novel ways to develop literacy.
This variety and innovation is a tremendous asset, providing options to tempt even the most reluctant readers. However, the pleasures and benefits of reading are still denied to many children - in 2012, one in eight left primary school unable to read to the required standard. Beanstalk trains volunteers to give one-to-one support to children who have fallen behind with their reading, using the delights of storytelling to enthuse and enrich them. We have 40 years experience of working with thousands of children who are shy, reluctant or struggling with their reading, and have seen the brilliant results that a diverse and adaptable approach brings.
To celebrate our 40th anniversary we have created a Charter for Children's Literacy, sponsored by HarperCollins, in which we call for action from government, businesses and individuals to help us in our life-changing work.
During 2011-12, Beanstalk worked with 6,400 children. We aim to help 10,000 by 2016. To achieve this aim, we need to grow our network of energetic and diverse reading helpers. Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, chair of the EU High Level Group of Experts on Literacy, comments in the Charter that it is time for "all players in society to do their bit", and in particular, we're calling for more men to take up the opportunity to make a difference to young lives and the society we live in.
Beanstalk reading helpers are carefully trained and supported, and go on to work with three children, seeing each one for two 30 minute sessions a week during term-time, for a year. Beanstalk's approach is effective and efficient, with one-to-one time meaning that children make good progress at their own pace.
The individualised approach we take to each child is crucial - each reading helper begins with a wide selection of books and games and by asking the child to talk about what his or her hobbies and interests are. As well as training our reading helpers to adapt to each child, we also believe that teachers need to be helped to take a diverse and flexible approach. We are calling for a reduction in testing to promote creativity, and for teachers to be able to employ a broad repertoire of methods to teach reading.
Business can contribute by enabling employees to volunteer in local schools through extended CSR policies and corporate volunteering schemes like Beanstalk's. The Charter also calls on businesses to provide funding for school libraries and reading helper training, and to raise children's aspirations by organising school visits that make them aware of the benefits and opportunities opened up by reading. Investing in our young people's reading ability makes sense for UK prosperity: year-on-year, illiteracy costs the UK economy £81bn.
Once young children fall behind in their reading, they struggle to catch up and this damages attainment across their school subjects, significantly reducing their future chances in life. The impact on people and society of poor levels of literacy in children is enormous, with repercussions throughout adulthood in terms of long term poverty, unemployment and ill health.
The affect of poor literacy on offending behaviour is also clear. 60% of the prison population is said to have difficulties in basic literacy skills, whilst 48% of those involved in the summer riots in 2011 had left primary school without achieving the required standard.
Beanstalk's reading helpers not only assist with literacy, but also become friends and mentors for the children they work with - consistency, stability, and simply being there every week to take a supportive interest in a child's achievements means a lot. However, we are still unable to provide this support to every child that needs it and during our milestone anniversary year we will be calling for more volunteers and more funding, so that more adults can go into schools to provide this kind of support. By reading, learning and playing together, our volunteers make a considerable different to self-esteem and wellbeing and help children to read, grow and succeed.