As we publish our Impact Report for 2019/20, our Chief Executive, Jonathan Douglas, reflects on the difference we have made to children and young people’s lives through literacy and sets out our ambition for the year ahead.
Looking back on the last year, I am tremendously proud of what we at the National Literacy Trust have achieved to address the imbalance of literacy skills in the UK.
We know that literacy is the foundation for all learning, yet far too many children and young people still lack the literacy skills they need to succeed in school, work and life – particularly those from our poorest communities. In fact, in 2019, disadvantaged children were around twice as likely as their better off peers to leave primary school unable to read (42% vs 23%) and write (36% vs 18%) at the level expected for their age and leave secondary school without good GCSEs in English language and maths (58% vs 31%).
In the past year, we have worked hand in hand with teachers, early years settings, schools and colleges serving the UK’s most disadvantaged communities to address this divide. Since last April, we have delivered programmes that have supported the reading, writing, speaking and listening skills of more than a quarter of a million of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people. In addition, our training and resources have helped almost 6,000 teachers across the nation to deliver outstanding literacy provision.
The last year also saw us launch three new Literacy Hubs: our place-based campaigns dedicated to improving the literacy of children and families in communities where it is needed most. We celebrated the launches of Birmingham Stories, Doncaster Stories and Get Blackpool Reading, and it has been wonderful to see the impact we’ve already had in these areas.
We are so thankful to our partners in all 14 of our Literacy Hubs across the UK for helping us come up with new and innovative ways to fund and enable literacy, from foodbanks to football clubs.
At the turn of the year, the nation faced an unprecedented challenge as the impact of COVID-19 started to take hold. By March, schools were closed to the majority of pupils and the nation was in lockdown.
At a time when children, families and teachers needed us most, we showed our agility by galvanising our national partnerships and local networks to recreate the full range of what the National Literacy Trust can deliver online.
We rapidly adapted our school programmes and training to help teachers continue to support children and young people’s literacy: from launching a series of virtual internships for young people with leading business including PwC and Lancôme as part of our Words for Work employability programme, to delivering 42 live online training sessions for more than 1,100 secondary teachers involved in our Literacy for Learning whole-school improvement programme.
To help the millions of families who were adjusting to supporting their children’s literacy and learning at home in the face of school closures, we quickly devised and launched a new website within four working days. An astonishing 500,000 families accessed our Family Zone site, making the most of our exclusive author interviews, free ebooks and audiobooks, reading and writing activities, videos, competitions and more. The site is now migrating to Words for Life, with a bigger and better offer for families as the challenges of COVID-19 continue.
On our Family Zone, we were also lucky to exclusively host The Book of Hopes, an extraordinary collection of short stories, poems, essays and pictures collated by Katherine Rundell and published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, with contributions from more than 110 children’s writers and illustrators. The collection has been viewed 400,000 times, providing hope to children when the world seemed rather bleak.
While providing children, families and schools with crucial digital support, we also know that 700,000 disadvantaged children were unable to access online learning at the peak of lockdown, so we had an important role to play in tackling digital exclusion by getting vital books and learning resources into children’s homes. Thanks to our incredible partnerships with publishers and businesses, as well as our teams on the ground in our Literacy Hubs, we were able to distribute 300,000 books during lockdown.
During the darkest days of the early pandemic, I was cheered by images of children receiving books, magazines or stationery that would appear on each of the Hubs’ Facebook pages, which were also launched to provide local families with literacy support during lockdown.
The pandemic has given us a new focus and impetus for our work. September is a month of change: children and young people return to school and college and the seasons transition from summer to autumn. We are all living through a period of uncertainty right now, trying to ensure we don’t upset the delicate balance of COVID-19 safety measures against keeping schools open and able to provide essential support.
September is also a month of resolutions for us. The pandemic has exacerbated the great inequality fault line that runs through our society. Indeed, it is expected that school closures as a result of COVID-19 will reverse all progress made in the last decade to close the poverty attainment gap. So over the coming year, we want to support the literacy, learning and wellbeing of one million children most seriously affected by COVID-19. It’s an ambitious but vital target.
The full impact of COVID-19 on our children and young people will likely take years to fully analyse, but the six months of disruption to their education will have had a profound impact on the youngest generation’s lives.
One thing is clear: our work has never been more important.
Find out more about how you can help us support the literacy, learning and wellbeing of one million children most seriously affected by COVID-19. Together, we can ensure that no child is left behind.