National campaign highlights impact of poor childhood literacy on later life

13 April 2015

A new study has found that disadvantaged children who fall behind in reading before they start primary school generally earn far less in later life.

The literacy campaigners who commissioned the study are calling on politicians to tackle the divide in reading ability and wage inequality in adulthood by improving early-years education.

Researchers from the Institute for Fiscal Studies analysed data from the 1970 British Cohort Study to see how children have fared in later life. Those participating in the survey sat a reading skills test aged 10, which researchers used to benchmark their literacy.

The study found that poorer children who fall behind in reading by age 10 go on to earn around 20 per cent an hour less on average at age 40 than those who were the best readers in childhood.

This is equivalent to an extra day’s wages each week. The researchers say a 20 per cent increase in hourly pay for those on the lowest incomes represents the difference between earning the minimum and the living wage.

The study was commissioned by national literacy campaign Read On. Get On., a coalition of charities, businesses and schools which aims to get every child in the UK reading well by the age of 11. Currently four in ten of the poorest children leave school without this key skill.

The campaigners say the most disadvantaged children are being let down by poor nursery provision and that the quality of private nurseries – which make up 75 per cent of England’s provision – is too variable and weak in more deprived areas.

Half of England’s privately run nurseries do not employ a single graduate teacher, and only 13 per cent of their staff have a relevant degree.

The campaigning coalition, which includes Save the Children, emphasised that there is strong evidence that good quality early education delivered by graduates has a positive impact on early years learning, and that this impact is stronger for children from low-income families.

On average, children from low-income families are nearly 12 months behind their better-off peers in vocabulary by the time they start school.

One in five children cannot read well by the time they leave primary school, while this figure rises to one in three among children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dame Julia Cleverdon, chair of Read On. Get On. said: “By providing quality and qualified teaching in every nursery, we can ensure every child arrives at school with the building blocks in place to learn to read and succeed.”

She called on politicians to ensure that all nurseries, especially those serving disadvantaged children, have at least one early-years trained graduate by 2020. It is estimated that this would require 11,000 more graduates.

Read On. Get On. recommend increasing the pupil premium for three and four year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds – due to be implemented in April 2015 – for those nurseries that employ an early-years graduate.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said extra funding would be welcomed by nurseries. “At present, nurseries receive an average of £3.80 per hour from local authorities to deliver the government’s free places for three and four year-olds. That doesn’t cover the cost of childcare, let alone staff development,” she said.

But she added that to suggest that nurseries are lacking quality in terms of early-years education is unfair.

“Despite a chronic funding shortfall, nurseries already make a huge educational difference – particularly for underprivileged children. Internationally respected research has underlined this,” she said.

Further information

The Institute for Fiscal Studies report “The link between childhood reading skills and adult outcomes: analysis of a cohort of British children”.

Read On. Get On. is a reading campaign driven by a coalition of organisations, communities, parents and schools, businesspeople, media and politicians:

The Read On. Get On. report The Power of Reading”.

The 1970 British Cohort Study follows the lives of 17,000 people born in a single week of 1970.

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