Research reveals England’s ‘entrenched literacy problems’

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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A total of 458 out of 533 Parliamentary constituencies have at least one ward with serious literacy issues, research by the National Literacy Trust has shown.

New research has revealed the literacy challenges facing many schools after showing that the vast majority of Parliamentary constituencies contain at least one ward with “entrenched literacy problems”.

A study by the National Literacy Trust and Experian concludes that England faces a “deep-rooted literacy crisis”, with 5.1 million adults currently not possessing the reading skills expected of an 11-year-old. It is also estimated that poor literacy costs the country £81 billion a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending.

The research involved analysing data about the social factors most closely associated with low literacy to create a “literacy vulnerability score” for every single electoral ward. The score is based on the social mix of the resident population in each ward and combines metrics from the 2011 Census and Experian’s socio-demographic classification system, Mosaic.

It found that 86 per cent of English constituencies have entrenched literacy problems. The constituency with the greatest problems is Middlesbrough, followed by Barking, Hackney South & Shoreditch, Liverpool Walton, and Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough – see table, right.

MPs were given an information pack containing their constituency’s literacy vulnerability score and analysis of the local factors behind it at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy on Monday (February 6).

The National Literacy Trust has given every MP access to the report to “help them better understand and respond to the specific literacy challenges in their constituency”.

The research also shows that literacy issues are “intensely localised”. It states: “Although there are clear hotspots, such as areas in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, and the North West, the analysis reveals that low literacy levels aren’t restricted to regions with low income, employment and social deprivation.

“In England, 458 constituencies contain at least one ward with greatest literacy need, which leaves just 75 constituencies with no serious literacy issues.”

Furthermore, inner cities have the most significant literacy needs, dominating the list of locations with a need for the greatest literacy support – all 50 places suffering the most come from cities, towns or districts surrounding urban areas.

From this list, six constituencies are situated by the coast, including Birkenhead, Hartlepool and Grimsby.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said: “For 20 years, the government has addressed England’s widening literacy gap through national strategies. We now know that a new, targeted approach is needed as our work with Experian reveals the country’s literacy challenge to be intensely local. Strong local leadership and partnerships are vital to tackling this and MPs are ideally placed to drive effective local solutions.

“We know that local strategies work – we set up a National Literacy Trust Hub in Middlesbrough in 2013, which has already had a vital impact on the number of children reaching a good level of development at age five and has significantly closed the attainment gap with the national average.”

Richard Jenkings, lead analytics consultant at Experian, added: “It doesn’t come as a surprise that levels of literacy are strongly related to households and the neighbourhood in which people live, with urban areas facing the biggest challenges.

“There is a clear correlation between literacy and income, levels of education, long-term unemployment rates, levels of motivation and depression, as well as with intergenerational needs and growing up in a family with no work culture.

“However, what shocked me the most in the analysis was just how far-reaching the problem of low literacy is in England – it’s on all of our doorsteps, regardless of location. Most regions have at least one area with severe literacy problems. We hope that by making sense of all this data, we have helped lay the foundations for others to transform lives and local communities for the better.”

The National Literacy Trust’s local model to address intergenerational low literacy levels involves creating Literacy Hubs. It is currently working in Middlesbrough, Bradford, Peterborough, Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent.

The hubs see the Trust taking the best literacy interventions to these communities, creating partnerships between schools, businesses, the voluntary sector and health and local services and mobilising MPs and local leaders to champion literacy in their community.


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