Lack of support for children in England leading to ‘literacy crisis’ | Books

Lack of support for children in England leading to ‘literacy crisis’ | Books

Lack of support for early years language and communication development is leading to a “literacy crisis” that could be costing the economy £830m for each school year group, according to new research.

The report, led by Pro Bono Economics (PBE) and commissioned by KPMG UK in collaboration with the National Literacy Trust (NLT), also found that there are about 106,000 five-year-old children in England each year who are not currently meeting the expected standard for literacy but could with adequate support.

PBE estimated the long-term cost of insufficient literacy skills to be £7,800 per child on average. This includes a £5,300 loss in potential lifetime earnings as well as £2,500 in additional education, social and welfare spending and lower tax revenue per child. This means that the government will lose an estimated £270m per year group in increased spending and lower tax revenue.

Two-fifths of the 106,000 children who could have been meeting expected literacy standards with the right support live in deprived areas. “We know that experiencing poverty has a huge effect on a child’s early communication, language and literacy skills, and that this will have consequences for their learning, their confidence, their wellbeing, and their ability to thrive for the rest of their lives,” said NLT CEO, Jonathan Douglas.

The publication of the report coincides with the launch of an NLT campaign, Early Words Matter, which will offer support to 250,000 children in areas worst-hit by the cost of living crisis and call on the government and businesses to invest in high-quality early childhood education. The PBE research “confirms the dire need for immediate intervention”, said Douglas, adding that the new campaign “will get to the heart of the problem by working directly with the communities and families that need our help the most”.

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The report highlighted that more than a quarter of five-year-olds in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester have low literacy levels. Across these three cities alone, PBE found that the lifetime economic cost of five-year-olds not meeting the expected literacy standard is around £30m for each cohort.

PBE states that “though virtually all parents and care givers want the best for their children and strive to deliver it, lower income families face greater barriers to supporting their children to develop” skills. Possible barriers include parents lacking confidence in their own literacy skills, limited financial resources restricting the provision of books, and antisocial behaviour in the local area making it harder to access amenities, of which there may be fewer in the first place.

The report also states that, while it is difficult to measure, “professionals are confident” that the pandemic worsened communication, language and literacy skills because there was a closure of many early years facilities, and parents faced challenges balancing work, financial concerns and supporting their children’s learning at home while being isolated from their usual support networks.

“That so many young children are reaching reception so far behind in basic reading and communication skills should raise alarm bells everywhere,” said Matt Whittaker, CEO of PBE. “Many of the costs of the cross-society failure on early literacy are borne by children from the most deprived areas of our country, reinforcing inequalities for the next generation. Cross-sector solutions are essential to support families, early years settings and communities to overcome the literacy crisis.”

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