Poor children in rural areas and small towns are falling behind those who live in cities when it comes to reading, according to research published today (27th November) as part of the "Read On. Get On" campaign.
The report, Reading England’s Future: Mapping how well the poorest children read, published by Save the Children on behalf of the campaign, ranked the reading ability of children aged 11 who are eligible for free school meals across England’s 533 parliamentary constituencies. Children on free school meals currently account for about one fifth of the total.
Almost 40% of areas defined as "town and country", and a third of "countryside" regions, are in the bottom quarter rankings, according to the report. In contrast, no London constituencies and only 20% of constituencies in other major urban areas are in the bottom quarter.
In terms of overall regions, the South East, the East of England and Yorkshire and the Humber are performing particularly badly, with around 45% of their constituencies in the bottom 25% of the rankings.
The report found that there are two reasons why children read poorly at 11; poor language development before the age of five, or poor progress in reading between the ages of five and 11. Some regions, like the East of England and the South East, have both these problems, while in Yorkshire children have good language development before the age of five but then show poor reading progress later on.
At the other end of the scale, London is the top-performing region in terms of poor children’s reading and the top five constituencies in the country (Battersea, Chipping Barnet, Putney, Old Bexley and Sidcup, and Bermondsey and Old Southwark) are all in the capital.
Out of the 533 parliamentary constituencies, just under 500 have maintained or improved reading levels for poorer pupils over the 2003-2013 period. Sleaford and North Hykeham, Leicester West, Witham, West Bromwich and Copeland showed the most improvement.
However, the report states that there are areas in every region of England where poor children are at risk of falling behind.
Gareth Jenkins, director of UK policy at Save the Children, said: “Read On. Get On is a crucial mission to get all children reading well but this can’t happen when poor children are being forgotten… This report shows there is no area in England currently meeting the Read On. Get On goal of getting all children reading well at 11. And this is a problem because being unable to read well has dismal consequences for a child’s future – preventing them from passing exams and finding a job, and locking them into a lifetime of poverty.”
The Read On. Get On coalition was put together by organisations including Save the Children, Booktrust and the Publishers Association in September to tackle a “reading crisis” among British children.
The coalition is hoping to encourage literacy in the country so all children will have a good reading ability by 2025, and will next year release a report on what it believes the next Parliament must do to reach that goal.