The Evening Post is launching a campaign to Get Leeds Reading and we need your help.
In this first story, Debbie Leigh reveals how volunteers can transform lives by supporting struggling children in schools across the city
TODAY we reveal the shocking extent of illiteracy among youngsters in the city and the heartbreaking impact it has on the lives of those children who are slipping through the net.
More than 1,000 pupils are leaving primary schools every year in Leeds without learning how to read properly.
Last year, 1,110 children did not reach the expected standard – that’s one in six of the 11-year-olds who took Standard Assessment Tests (Sats) last summer.
Even more disturbing, 444 children started secondary school in Leeds last September with the reading age of a seven year-old. That’s six per cent of the city’s 11-year-olds trailing four years behind in the most fundamental life skill.
These youngsters can’t even read basic words like “would”, “goes”, “being” or “watch”.
If their reading doesn’t improve before they leave high school, they will join a lost generation of adults lacking the basic functional literacy skills for life – unable to read something as simple as a bus timetable or prescription.
Sue Porto, chief executive of our campaign partner, children’s literacy charity Beanstalk, said: “It is a tragedy that after seven years of primary education, as many as one in six children leaving primary school are unable to read to the required standard.
“The consequences of this in later life can be horrendous, with 60 per cent of the prison population having difficulty with basic literacy.
“Reading empowers children and with the dedicated support of Beanstalk’s reading helpers, disadvantaged children’s lives can be transformed.”
When compared with other Core Cities – the main economic hubs outside of London – the percentage of Leeds pupils reaching the expected reading level is below that of their peers in Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham and Manchester.
And pupils from deprived backgrounds in Leeds are twice as likely to fail to master the “three Rs” in primary school than more affluent children.More than a third (34 per cent) of 11-year-old pupils from poor homes in the city did not reach the expected level in English and maths in tests at the end of primary school last year. This compares with 17 per cent of pupils from better-off families.
In addition to the shame and embarrassment youngsters feel at being unable to keep up with their classmates, failing to develop crucial literacy skills at primary school can have devastating consequences for their future life chances.
Just 3.5 per cent of pupils classed as low attainers in English and maths at the end of primary school in Leeds go on to get five good GCSEs including English and maths at the end of secondary school. As a result they are unlikely to be able to get a decent job or good wage.
It’s clear that failing to master the basics in reading and writing at primary school is blighting youngsters’ chances for the rest of their education and beyond.
That’s why early intervention is vital. Because once youngsters reach high school, the curriculum is based on the assumption that they can read and write to the required standard. If they can’t, they are likely to struggle with every aspect of their studies.
Jenny Lewis, volunteer services manager for Beanstalk, said: “It also costs the economy because people aren’t skilled enough. If we don’t have a literate workforce, we can’t have a skilled workforce.”
Here at the YEP, we want to ensure that every child in Leeds gets the best possible start in life. And there’s no better way to improve their confidence, job prospects and overall success and happiness than through giving them the gift of reading.
That’s why the YEP has joined forces with Beanstalk to launch this campaign to Get Leeds Reading.
We are appealing for volunteers to go into the city’s primary schools and support children struggling to read.
Our aim is to double the number of reading helpers in the city from 40 to 80 and double the number of youngsters they help from 120 to 240.
More than nine out of 10 of the children they help make vast improvements. But they need new volunteers and the money to train them.
That’s where you, our YEP readers, come in. Volunteer or make a donation today and you can help create a brighter future for the children of Leeds.