A new coalition is being formed to tackle what it calls a "reading crisis" among British children.
The Read On. Get On. coalition has been been put together by organisations including Save the Children, Booktrust and the Publishers Association after research found that by 2015, 1.5m children in the UK will have reached the age of 11 unable to read well.
The group's research, which it calls "the most comprehensive study of pre-school and primary school-aged children in a generation", is said to show that England is one of the most unequal countries in the EU when it comes to reading levels, second only to Romania, with the gap between the strongest and weakest readers equivalent to seven years of schooling.
It also finds that disadvantaged children are the worst affected, with four in 10 not reading well by the age of 11, double the rate of their better off peers. A quarter of 11-year-olds in the poorest families have fewer than 10 books in their home, and the most commonly read material by children is now text messages.
Dame Julia Cleverdon CBE, former chief executive of Business in the Community and chair of the Read On. Get On. coalition, said: "It is tragic and unfair that children from the poorest families and the most deprived communities are least likely to read well at the age of 11 in the UK - one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Four out of ten children on free school meals who struggle to read will also struggle to gain the educational opportunities and life chances that they need to flourish. This vital long term campaign with broad based energetic support aims to make a life-changing difference both for children in poverty and for our society.”
The group aims to create a nation of strong readers by supporting parents to read with young children for ten minutes a day, to build a coalition of the influential organisations to support the mission, and urge political parties to support the target of helping all children read well by 2025. The report, Read On. Get On. – How Reading Can Help Children Escape Poverty, shows that GDP in the UK could be £32bn higher if action had been taken to make sure all children are reading well.
Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said: “Read On. Get On. is not just about teachers, charities and politicians – it’s about galvanising the nation so that parents, grandparents and volunteers play their part in teaching children to read. We want every child to be given a fair and equal chance to learn to read well, regardless of their background.”
Participating organisations are Save the Children, the National Association of Head Teachers, Booktrust, Beanstalk, the PA, The Reading Agency, Teach First, the National Literacy Trust, I CAN, HarperCollins, Achievement for All and the Fair Education Alliance.
All of the organisations have pledged to cooperate to encourage childhood literacy, working through schools, libraries and in the home.
The Sun newspaper is also getting involved, running specially written stories in Saturday editions for parents to read to their children. Authors including David Walliams, Derek Landy, Michael Morpurgo and pop group Rizzle Kicks will write stories, while a competition for a member of public to write a featured story will also be running. The Sun is also giving away free e-books through its Sun+ membership programme.