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UK children more likely to be 'illiterate' than Australian or Canadian children

24 May 2012

New research has found that children in the United Kingdom are more likely to be "functionally illiterate" despite higher spending on children and similar levels of inequality.

Children born in the United Kingdom and the USA are also significantly less socially mobile than children born in Australia and Canada. In the UK, as in all OECD countries, poorer children have smaller vocabularies than richer children. But the gap in vocabulary between the poor and the rich is even larger in the UK than it is in Australia and Canada.

The report by the Sutton Trust found that these gaps in educational standards cannot be "explained away" by income inequality, since Canada and Australia have similar levels of income equality to the UK and the USA. The disparities also occur despite relatively high levels of spending on children during early childhood in the UK and the USA. The UK spends 4 per cent of GDP on family benefits relating to children and childcare, compared to 1.2 per cent in the USA and 1.4 per cent in Canada.

The result of the poorer "life chances" for UK children has a dramatic impact in later life. In England students from the highest social class are "three times as likely to enter university than those from the lowest social class groups".

Our Words for Life campaign helps parents from disadvantaged backgrounds to support their children’s literacy.

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