More British children own a mobile phone than a book – is this an issue for the Government?
Posted by Jonathan Douglas
Our new research on the impact of family on children’s literacy grabbed the headlines this month with the finding that nearly 9 in 10 young people in the UK own a mobile phone, while just over 7 in 10 have books of their own. Media coverage of the research has focused on the easily digestible fact that more children have mobile phones than books of their own. Whilst our intention was not to suggest that mobile phone ownership is in any way inherently bad it’s great that this figure has won public attention for literacy and sparked a debate about the importance of books in the home because the home is where the foundations for literacy are laid.
The study, of over 17,000 young people, revealed a strong link between children’s literacy and what goes on in the home. Children who read above the expected level for their age are more likely to have books of their own - 80% of children who read above the expected level for their age have books of their own; while only 58% who read below their expected level have books of their own. Children who aren’t encouraged to read by their mother are three times more likely to say ‘reading is boring’ than those who are encouraged to read a lot, and children are twice as likely to read outside of class if they are encouraged to read by their mother or father a lot. Research has repeatedly shown that the most accurate predictor of a pupil’s achievement is not parental income or social status but the extent to which parents create a home environment that encourages learning.
This may seem obvious, but our evidence shows that not every parent gets it or does it: 2 in 10 young people don’t get any encouragement to read at all from their mother, and 3 in 10 don’t from their father. A significant number of parents are either unconvinced of the benefits of supporting their child’s literacy, don’t prioritise it or don’t have the skills to do so.
The coalition’s education agenda puts parents at the heart of its reforms – the flagship “free school“ puts unprecedented power in the hands of parents. However if over 20% are not even encouraging their children to read, it suggests that engaging them with the structural governance of their children’s education will be deeply challenging.
It is therefore vital that moves to engage parents in the free schools agenda are coupled with a stronger focus on the engagement of parents in their own children’s learning. Family learning needs to be the foundation of free schools. By demonstrating to parents that they are their children’s first and greatest teacher and giving them the skills to fulfil the role, government will engage communities in education who currently find even the playground intimidating. Government must not be nervous of support for family learning. It will create the capacity in schools communities which will rescue “free schools” from the small groups of Lynda Snells who hover outside every head teacher’s office
The National Literacy Trust is determined to increase opportunities for parents to support their children’s reading. This month we have launched our Tell Me a Story campaign to raise awareness of importance of family literacy and to raise money to support our work with families in disadvantaged communities across the country.
One in six children in the UK grow up unable to read or write as well as they need. Literacy is not simply an issue for developing nations it is the UK’s most pressing educational challenge. The coalition has said this will be a priority. This is great news. We hope our Tell Me A Story campaign will raise awareness of the role of parents in supporting schools in addressing this challenge.
To find out how you can support the campaign today, please visit www.literacytrust.org.uk/tellmeastory
This blog also appeared on the Telegraph online.
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