Levelling up – through learning to read

Ian Merrill
March 14, 2022

The government's Levelling Up White Paper, released in February, sets out 12 missions. These are designed to focus attention and resources on the 'forgotten communities', helping to transform the UK by giving people more opportunities.


There are 2 levelling up missions which are particularly interesting. The government have set out plans so that by 2030, 90% of primary school children in England will have the expected standards in reading, writing and maths. This will give them the basic skills to support their futures.


Over the same period, we should see an increase in the number of adults taking on further skills training. This will include 80,000 more people a year improving their skills.


The government also wants to build a high-skill and high-wage economy. Their goal is for people to take up courses locally and have access to training for their whole life. They believe this will help businesses recruit the skilled employees they need to help them thrive. These are positive goals that can make a real difference to individuals, their families and their neighbourhoods.


At Shannon Trust, we understand that not everyone had a positive experience when they were at school. Across the UK, 16% of adults struggle to read, or cannot read at all.


For people who struggle with reading, the skills training mentioned in the Levelling Up White Paper might seem off putting, or for some, impossible. Even if the courses will help increase practical and technical skills, it can be easy for some people to dismiss all formal learning. This can be because they may not feel they’re up to it, or they do not think they’re worth investing in.


Shannon Trust believes nobody should be left out of learning. We understand school does not work for everyone, and it can put people off learning as an adult. For these people and their families, as well as for the businesses and organisations in their communities, this can mean lost potential for the individual and society.


To date, most of our work has been in prisons, where more than 50% of people have a literacy level below that of an 11-year-old.


We support and encourage people in prison who can read to help those who struggle to read. Our informal approach helps learners to improve their skills and strengthen their contact with family and friends outside. It can also help them to manage prison life with its signs, forms and instructions.


87% of our learners go on to engage with further education. We know our reading programme helps learners - and mentors - improve their life chances by building their skills, confidence and self-esteem.


We are now also working with a number of services outside of prisons, to support more people to improve their literacy. Our reading programme, Turning Pages, is being used by reading coaches in the community who we train and support.


As with our prison programme, learning to read is based on trust. Our programme works because:

  • the learner can go at their own pace
  • it’s informal and flexible
  • it takes place away from traditional classrooms
  • it offers privacy to people who do not want anyone else to know they find reading difficult

In the near future, we will be launching our Turning Pages digital app. This will offer greater flexibility and help us to reach thousands of more learners.


Our vision is a future where everyone can experience the positive impact of learning. We believe starting to read, and improving reading skills, boosts wellbeing, nurtures relationships and makes daily life easier. Learning to read encourages self-belief and opens up wider opportunities for the learner.


We welcome the move to 'level up' and for many this will start with learning to read.

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