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Literacy news

86% of English constituencies have entrenched problems with literacy

7 Feb 2017

Children’s futures will be put in jeopardy if action isn’t taken at a local level to tackle England’s deep-rooted literacy crisis. That’s the message coming from a comprehensive new study by the National Literacy Trust and Experian, which reveals that the vast majority of constituencies in England (86%) contain at least one ward with serious literacy issues [1].

Experian analysed data about the social factors most closely associated with low literacy, to create a literacy vulnerability score for every single electoral ward and parliamentary constituency in England.

By harnessing the power of data and analytics, this brand new measure provides a deeper understanding about a long-standing challenge for society, identifying the areas with the most acute literacy problems and pinpointing where the greatest level of support is required. 

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 6 February. Every MP in the country has access to a report to help them better understand and respond to the specific literacy challenges in their constituency.

The investigation found that:

  • The constituency with the greatest literacy problems is Middlesbrough, followed by Barking, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Liverpool (Walton) and Sheffield (Brightside and Hillsborough). 
  • Literacy issues are intensely localised. Although there are clear hot spots, 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.
  • The areas that struggle the most.  Inner cities and their surrounding areas dominate 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.”  [2].


Literacy vulnerability scores and rankings for every parliamentary constituency in England are available here.

The National Literacy Trust is a member of the Read On. Get On. campaign to get all children reading well by the time they leave primary school by 2025. The charity hopes their analysis with Experian will provide further evidence for the campaign on how reading well can help children escape poverty and reach their potential. 

[1] Analysis by the National Literacy Trust and Experian (2017). 86% of constituencies (468 out of 533) contain at least one ward in the three deciles of greatest need.

[2] In 2015, more children in Middlesbrough achieved a Good Level of Development at the end of the EYFS, closing the gap with the national average from 22.6 percentage points in 2013 to 6.27 percentage points.

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The National Literacy Trust is a registered charity no. 1116260 and a company limited by guarantee no. 5836486 registered in England and Wales and a registered charity in Scotland no. SC042944.
Registered address: 68 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL.