Almost 1,000 pupils left primary schools in Leeds last year without learning to read properly.
In 2014, 998 children did not reach the expected standard – that’s close to one in seven of the 11-year-olds who took standard assessment tests (SATS) last summer.
But even more worrying is the fact that 460 youngsters started secondary school in Leeds last September with the reading age of a seven-year-old or below.
That means six per cent of the city’s 11-year-olds trailing four or more years behind in what is arguably our most fundamental life skill.
At that level they are unable to read even basic words like “would”, “goes”, “being” or “watch”.
Without drastic and rapid improvements, these youngsters are at risk of drifting out of education and into a lifelong struggle, with not only work but everyday life – unable to read something as simple as a prescription or bus timetable.
That’s why today – during National Storytelling Week – we are launching our Get Leeds Reading campaign, to help ensure future generations are equipped with the skills they need to succeed.
We are calling on an army of 50 YEP readers to show their support, sign up as volunteer reading helpers and help boost children’s literacy rates across the city.
And we have joined forces with national charity Beanstalk, which trains and supports volunteers to provide one-to-one reading support to primary school pupils who have fallen behind with their reading.
Janet Skeen, Beanstalk’s area manager for Yorkshire and the North East, said the consequences of falling behind could be disastrous.
“Poor literacy skills can have a devastating impact on the future of young people’s lives and the future of our society both locally and as a nation.”
She added: “Individuals with low literacy skills face a lifetime of potential exclusion, low aspiration and under achievement.”
According to Beanstalk, more than half of the UK’s prison population have the reading skills of an 11-year-old or younger.
Ms Skeen said: “Reading well by the age of 11 is particularly important as, according to research, the first 11 years of a child’s life are the period when most learning of literacy happens.”
And she warned early intervention was the key to success.
“Research suggests that if a child does not read well when young they can turn away from education as they get older, get poor qualifications and struggle with the world of work.”
Once children reach high school the curriculum is based on the assumption that youngsters can read and write to the required standard. If they can’t, they are likely to struggle with every aspect of their studies.
According to a recent report by Save the Children, the city is failing its poorest children – with half of Leeds’ eight parliamentary constituencies languishing in the bottom quartile for youngsters from low-income families reading well at age 11. A further two constituencies are in the third quartile – still below average.
And although standards have slightly improved over the past three years, it’s clear there is still work to be done.
Judith Blake, Leeds City Council’s executive member for children and families, said: “We very much welcome this new campaign by the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“Reading is such a vital skill, which is why we are working hard to help ensure literacy levels in the city continue to improve. Leeds is a diverse city with some of the poorest and most affluent areas in the country, therefore it is no surprise that levels of reading ability can vary across the city.
“However we want all children to be able to achieve to the best of their ability regardless of their background.”
Generous book lovers from across the city are already volunteering with Beanstalk in 32 Leeds schools and many more schools have applied for help.
Ms Skeen said: “Many of our existing schools would have more if we could find new reading helpers. There is so much demand for what we do, so we would encourage anyone interested to apply.”
For details on how to sign up as a reading helper in Leeds visit: www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk