One way to level up, is to ensure that nobody is left out of learning

Ian Merrill
February 14, 2022

On 2 February, Michael Gove released the Government's long-promised Levelling Up White Paper. At just shy of 300 pages, it covers a range of concerns for individuals and communities – from transport and broadband, to life expectancy and neighbourhood crime.


One of the themes of the paper is improved well-being for everyone – the extent to which we all lead happy and fulfilled lives. Part of this vision is to eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy, with more primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030. As the White Paper notes, “Children’s development, attainment and later-life chances vary significantly across the UK.”


It's easy to understand why the Government's focus is on the youngest children, nurturing and encouraging potential from the start. Children who are confident with reading, writing and using numbers are more likely to embrace their school lives and want to keep developing through education and training. With sufficient resources for schools, and support for those children who find formal learning difficult, this proposal could make a real difference.


However, across the UK, 16% of adults struggle to read and a similar percentage lack basic maths skills. Many people with poor literacy and numeracy find it hard to get rewarding work. They may lose hope of achieving things they once hoped for. They may think less of themselves, needing to rely on others to help with day-to-day basics like official letters, forms, instructions and the internet. And however much they may want something different for their children, they won't be able to help with schoolwork.


Since 1997, Shannon Trust has helped transform many lives, supporting disadvantaged people learn to read so they can build a different future for themselves and their families. Most of our work so far, has supported those in the criminal justice system, especially people in prison. Over 50% of the prison population have a literacy level below that of an 11-year-old, with many not being able to read at all. Our data suggests that many of the same people also struggle with numeracy, so we are now adding basic maths alongside our literacy work. Our peer-to-peer approach means we support prisoners who can read to help those who can't. This lets learners, and their mentors, make positive changes towards improving their skills, self-confidence and chances of finding jobs after their time in prison.  


Now, Shannon Trust is working with a number of services in the wider community, to support many more to improve their literacy. Our reading programme, Turning Pages, enables adults to learn to read – you may have seen Jay Blades learning to read using Turning Pages on television recently. Turning Pages is used one-to-one with a reading coach and learners go at their own pace, in the way that suits them. Extending our work into the community also means those who've started to learn to read in prison can carry on after their release. And in the near future, we will launch our Turning Pages digital app as we seek to reach thousands more learners.


Learning to read improves job prospects, boosts well-being and builds self-esteem. It makes daily life easier. It helps create and nurture relationships. It can bring joy. And it helps parents support, encourage and inspire their children with words and stories. At Shannon Trust, we believe that nobody should be left out of learning. Join us in making that a reality and show real levelling up in action.

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