Andrew Percy is the Member of Parliament for Brigg and Goole.
Research launched today by Save the Children reveals a map of reading disadvantage in England which punctures the myth that it is just inner-city areas which struggle with child literacy. Quite the opposite – the figures on children’s reading attainment show that it’s seaside towns and rural areas, including my own constituency Brigg and Goole, which face the some of the biggest challenges.
The new statistics show that child literacy is an issue across the country, but with the poorest children struggling most in coastal and rural areas. The national figure shows how far we have to go – with 40 per cent of children on Free School Meals still leaving primary school unable to read well.
As a former teacher, I know all too well the serious consequences that a poor start in reading has for children’s future education, employability and chance to get on and do well in life. The Government’s new ‘pupil premium’ funding boost for schools – worth £1,300 this year per disadvantaged pupil in primary school – provides additional support for the poorest children and is a good opportunity to help close this gap. However the solutions don’t just lie in schools. As part of their national reading mission, Read On. Get On, Save the Children has found that parents reading for just 10 minutes a day with their child can make an enormous difference. But low-income families in rural areas may struggle not just to afford books or other reading resources at home, but to access their library services too.
We take this very seriously locally and I am proud to have established Imagination Library schemes in East Riding of Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. The Imagination Library was set up by Dolly Parton in her home state of Tennessee where she grew up in severe poverty. She set up the charity to encourage parents to read with their children to help drive up reading rates particularly amongst the poorest families. The scheme has now been established in the UK and I am delighted to have succeeded in raising the funds, with the support of local businesses, to set up two Imagination Libraries locally in 2013. Now, children on the scheme receive a free book every month in the post until their 5th birthday. In North Lincolnshire 7,000 pre-school children have signed up – making it the fastest growing scheme in the UK and our pre-school results have already increased significantly, including amongst the poorest children.
Whether it is in inner cities, seaside towns or remote rural areas, there is no silver bullet for tackling child illiteracy. The solution must involve schools, parents, community groups and local businesses – focusing on getting pre-school children reading early, inspiring families to read together for enjoyment and working in schools to help close the achievement gap for the poorest children.