Can English Pupils Become the Best Readers in Europe?

Will pupils in UK schools be the most literate in Europe within five years? It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s the goal nonetheless, behind a new literacy campaign that has recently been launched by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and children’s author, David Walliams.

“If a child fails to learn how to read, the consequences can be nothing short of devastating, holding them back for the rest of their lives,” said Education Secretary Morgan. “I’m absolutely determined to make sure that every child, no matter where they live or what their background, learns to read, to read widely and to read well – giving them the best opportunity to get on in life.

“In fact, we’re going further than that – in the next five years, I want children in this country to become the best readers in Europe.”

International testing and surveys show that nine and ten year olds in England are currently ranked sixth in Europe, although the best readers in the country are among the best in Europe. However, too many children are being left behind, particularly the most disadvantaged. The literacy campaign is part of the government’s one nation approach to social justice, which will ensure every child is able to reach their potential, regardless of birth or background.

“There is no silver bullet, no magic wand, we can weave to magically transform literacy for every child in this country,” stressed Morgan. “But we owe it to our young people to explore every possible path when it comes to getting them reading well, to break down any barriers, support any who are left behind – to introduce every child, from every background, to our incredibly rich heritage of world-famous children’s literature. Then we can trust those books to do the rest.”

Plans include, creating at least 200 new book clubs across the country, and getting every eight-year-old child enrolled at their local library, in an effort to combat findings that show one in seven children, aged between eight and 16, rarely or never read outside school.

The Department for Education will also identify top primary schools with effective strategies for getting young people reading, so that every school can learn from their successes.

These measures aim to build on successful government reforms that have seen ‘substantial and rapid’ progress to tackle illiteracy since 2010. A strong emphasis on high-quality phonics teaching – which are available on the Hope Education website – has enabled more children to master the essentials of reading quickly.

Walliams, author of several best-selling children’s fiction novels, including The Boy in the Dress, Mr Stink, Gangsta Granny and Demon Dentist, added: “At the heart of this campaign is a very simple shared ambition – to get more children reading. Few things can compete with the joy of getting stuck into a good book and I believe that is something no child should miss out on.”