The links between poverty and low literacy in the UK are profoundly strong and intergenerational but they are not inevitable. In this country, the link between social mobility and socioeconomic status is more profound than in most other developed countries. Despite numerous centralised government strategies, this situation has persisted over the last 50 and more years, which shows that, as a nation, we are yet to address these challenges.
Children’s lives from the earliest moments are shaped by where they live. Research has shown that the characteristics of the neighbourhoods where children live and the systems they encounter shape children’s educational outcomes over and above the effects of social class or the overall deprivation levels of the areas, and compound existing disadvantages. Their lives are moulded in many places: in the classroom, the home, through friends, through culture and through the wider communities in which they live.
Based on this research, the National Literacy Trust has, over the past decade, been exploring how place-based solutions could be developed to raise literacy levels. The first National Literacy Trust Hub was launched in Middlesbrough in 2013 and now we have 14 areas of place-based work across the UK.
The Hubs are a long-term commitment to working in an area, bringing together everything we have learned about place-based working and literacy and making it available to the communities we work with. Each Hub is local and tailored but based on the principles of collective impact. It is developed in partnership with local organisations, communities and individuals and is made up of a combination of interlinking projects, interventions, volunteering programmes, media campaigning and behaviour change initiatives which work to meet the unique needs of each place.
Everything we do is based on research and evaluation and so our approach has evolved over time. From our Hubs, we have developed the following eight principles of place-based working, which are fully outlined in our latest report on the development of our work.
Eight principles of place-based working
- A common agenda between partners, including a shared vision for change, a joint understanding of the problem and an agreed approach to solving it with planned and collaborative contributions
- Joint use of data and a shared measurement system to understand the issue and track progress
- A range of mutually reinforcing activities that create a comprehensive approach, with clearly defined roles for each partner organisation
- Continuous communication between stakeholders and clear, consistent external messaging
- A backbone organisation that provides strong and visible leadership to coordinate the collective effort and that of local partners
- A medium-term commitment (10 years) to the communities you are working in
- Cross-sector partnerships that are mutually beneficial for each partners’ long-term strategy and short-term goals
- Engage communities in every stage of the project
Where we work
We target our work where we can have the greatest impact. We use a range of criteria for selecting Hub areas, including adult literacy levels, school attainment data at Key Stage 2 and GCSE, free school meals and deprivation data, and insights from our literacy vulnerability measure developed in partnership with Experian.
This approach has led to a wide range of positive outcomes collectively across our Hubs.
- Over 1 million books have been gifted to children in families who are the least likely to have any at home, along with advice and information for parents to use to support their child’s literacy at home
- 500+ organisations, which do not have literacy as their primary purpose, have worked with us to promote literacy in their area
- Hundreds of volunteers have become Literacy Champions – promoting literacy and supporting children, young people and adults in their community so that low literacy doesn’t hold them back
- New projects have been designed which use literacy to improve the lives and wellbeing of foster carers, parents with premature babies, teenage parents, families in temporary accommodation, sports fans, adults living with mental health challenges, people using foodbanks and tens of thousands of children of all ages
Improving literacy outcomes for children and young people
- School readiness: more children in Middlesbrough are achieving a Good Level of Development at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage, closing the gap with the national average from 22.6 percentage points in 2013 to 6.27 percentage points in 2015
- Writing: in 2015 more children and young people aged 11-14 in Bradford wrote every day or a few times a week outside of school (52.6%), compared to their peers regionally (39.7%) and nationally (44.1%)
- Reading: the number of Key Stage 2 pupils in Peterborough who enjoy reading increased by 23.4% between 2014 and 2015, rising from 59.8% in 2014 to 73.8% in 2015