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National Literacy Trust 2024 Manifesto

Seated crowd of children with hands raised School_National Literacy Trust

The National Literacy Trust’s mission is to empower people from disadvantaged communities with the literacy skills that they need to succeed in life. The literacy challenge is complicated because it is intergenerational and closely linked to inequality. Individuals with certain characteristics and those from particular communities are more likely to have low literacy levels.

In our recently published strategy, we identified three changes – which we refer to as ‘Breakthroughs’ – that would advance our vision for a more equal society, driven by literacy.

Our three breakthroughs:

  1. Literacy to grow: Every child starts school with language and communication skills ready to grow and learn at school.
  2. Literacy to learn: Every young person, wherever they grow up, leaves school with literacy skills for life.
  3. Literacy to thrive: Everyone leaving the criminal justice system has improved literacy skills to help them thrive.

In line with our strategic breakthroughs, we have made three tangible policy recommendations that we think should be reflected in all parties’ election manifestos.

We are calling for:

  1. Investment in early speech, language and communication.
    Early language is the foundation of all literacy. However, children’s early language development has suffered as a result of lockdown and increasing rates of child poverty. The National Literacy Trust’s Early Words Matter campaign is working to address this issue by directly supporting the early communication skills of 250,000 children over the next five years. We want the incoming government to play its part by increasing its commitment to early language development through integrated local services, and by placing a strategic emphasis on initiatives to support the home learning environment.
  2. Investment in primary school libraries.
    1 in 7 state primary schools in the UK do not have a library or library space, and 1 in 5 children between the ages of 5 and 8 do not have a single book of their own at home. Book poverty is, therefore, undermining teachers’ efforts to promote reading for pleasure and raise literacy levels. Since 2021, the Libraries for Primaries campaign has put 1,000 new libraries in primary schools. Unfortunately, many still lack adequate provision. Government investment of £14 million would ensure that every primary school in the UK has a library that is supported by a trained member of staff. Our research shows that investment would be popular with the electorate; 86% of 1,015 parents polled said they would support making it a legal requirement for every primary school to have a library. Public support far exceeds that of other policy commitments much greater in cost and scale.
  3. Investment in literacy enrichment activities in prisons.
    Over the last 15 months, the National Literacy Trust has supported men and women who are in prison with their literacy journey through a Literacy Innovation Fund that is administered by the Ministry of Justice. However, this funding runs out at the end of March 2025. We are calling on the incoming government to renew this funding, and for the evidence gathered through the project to be used to inform a national rollout. Ensuring that people leaving the criminal justice system have stronger literacy skills is critical to rehabilitation and justice and may help to reduce rates of reoffending.

Ultimately, the solutions to raising literacy levels in the UK are not only about boosting the impact of early years providers, schools and colleges, libraries, and education in prisons. As a society, we need to address stark social, economic and regional inequalities. That is why there will need to be an intensive review of current government policy following the 2024 General Election. This will set the scene for a crucial Spending Review. This will be the time when the National Literacy Trust will make the case for long-term changes to investment, services and the curriculum which we have been scoping with our partners.

But, for now, we have laid out three headline challenges and three constructive solutions which we think will resonate with the electorate and change life stories.

Jonathan Douglas CBE Hon FRSL

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