Our PM is a famously bookish fellow. Gordon Brown likes nothing better than some heavy-weight policy tome, we hear. Launching the National Year of Reading this week, the PM was in no doubt that reading is “… probably one of the best anti-poverty, anti-deprivation, anti-crime, anti-vandalism policies you can think of.” Wow!
To check this out we turned to ‘Tackling Low Educational Achievement’, by Robert Cassen and Geeta Kingdon (for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Sutton Trust). They certainly found a link. Deprived kids arrive at UK schools with less vocabulary than wealthy kids. And if you find it difficult to read and write early on then you are more likely to be a low educational achiever by 16. So disadvantaged children who are behind educationally before they enter school must get more pre-school help than they do now.
Robert Cassen comments: “Disadvantaged students are also more likely to attend poorly performing secondary schools. And they can miss out on the best teaching if they are regarded as unable to help their school’s league table position”. The result is that deprived kids hit the labour market with poor skills.
Boys generally outnumber girls as low achievers by three to two. And their reading and writing skills are worse in primary school. White British pupils form the majority of low educational achievers according to Cassen and Kingdon. They also do worse than children with similar income levels from other ethnic backgrounds.
The upshot is: we need more intensive help for those behind in learning to read in primary school. An investment at that time of life will pay massive dividends. To the individual, certainly (better skills, and therefore better labour market prospects). But also to society (higher productivity). And also less frustration and therefore crime, as the PM points out.
For more discussion go to the BBC report here. Brits bought 338 million books last year (up by value and volume from 5 years ago). We just need to help our poorer kids enjoy them more (and Victoria Beckham, who claims never to have read a book at all — despite her best-selling autobiography).