We launch our Virtual School Library and Words for Life digital platforms, with support from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and leading authors

14 Sep 2020
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Today, with the support of our Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, and leading children’s authors, we launch two new digital platforms for parents and teachers to support the literacy of children who have been most adversely affected by COVID-19.

School closures as a result of COVID-19 could see the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their better-off peers widen by as much as 75% to 16 months. This is a gap many may never recover from, as these children were already almost twice as likely as their better-off peers to leave primary school unable to read and write at the level expected for their age and to leave secondary school without good GCSEs in English language and maths.

Our new research also found that, during lockdown, 1 in 4 parents said their children did not have access to books of their own or library books, while half of parents said they would like more digital resources to support their child’s literacy at home.

To help children who have fallen behind with their literacy and to safeguard children’s access to books and families’ access to literacy support in the event of future local lockdowns, we have launched a Virtual School Library for primary schools and Words for Life website for parents.

Virtual School Library

Our Virtual School Library platform is a free resource for teachers which aims to give every primary school child in the UK access to a free ebook or audiobook, an exclusive video and engaging activities from a different beloved children’s author or illustrator every week.

The Virtual School Library will give children access to books all year round, whether they are learning at school or at home. Its first guest authors are Greg James and Chris Smith who have shared an exciting new video, a free audiobook from their Kid Normal series (published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books), some super literacy activities and their top three recommended children’s books.

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall supported the launch with an exclusive video, which also features children's authors Katherine Rundell, Chris Smith, Greg James and Rutendo Tavengerwei.

In the video, Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cornwall said:I love libraries. They are absolute treasure troves of knowledge, wisdom and hope. Enter a library and you will suddenly find you are able to walk through wardrobes and pop out of rabbit holes and play Quidditch and maybe even steal the Crown Jewels… I am delighted to launch the National Literacy Trust’s Virtual School Library. What a fantastic idea it is: a library that allows us to read books online, meet authors, see inside their writing rooms and enjoy reading activities – all from our own armchairs. I know children will have a fabulous time exploring it.”

We have partnered with publishers including Bloomsbury Publishing, Bonnier Books and Penguin Random House to ensure the books and activities featured support children’s wellbeing through reading.

Words for Life website

Our new website provides simple, fun and educational tips, activities and resources to support children’s literacy and learning at home. It is filled with themed book lists, quizzes, creative activities, tips and advice to help children of all ages to improve their reading, writing and communication skills from home.

The website brings together all of our existing digital support for parents in one place, including our hugely popular Family Zone, which supported more than 400,000 families with home learning resources during lockdown, and its Small Talk website, developed in partnership with the Department for Education’s Hungry Little Minds campaign, which provides parents of children aged 0-5 with simple activities to build into their daily routines to support their children’s early language development.

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Kindred2, a charitable foundation, has supported the creation of both the Virtual School Library and Words for Life.

We must do everything we can to support the literacy, learning and wellbeing of all children as they return to school after such a significant disruption to their education, particularly those who have been hit the hardest. Our Virtual School Library will ensure children who need it most have access to the magical world of stories all year round while our Words for Life website will provide parents with the activities they told us they need to help support their child’s literacy at home. Together, we can ensure that the impact of COVID-19 does not last a lifetime for any child.

Jonathan Douglas, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust