International Literacy Day 2015


Joanna Prior , 8th September 2015

President of The Publishers Association, Trustee of the NLT and MD of Penguin General Books, Joanna Prior, discusses the importance of supporting International Literacy Day.

While it may seem that every campaign and initiative now has a ‘Day’, for me, today, International Literacy Day, is one which deserves extra attention and focus. 

For most readers of this blog, reading well will have been one of those key life skills you learn in your first years at school; however, evidence shows that this is not the case for everyone.   

When confronted with figures such as 51 million adults in the UK struggle with reading, four out of 10 children on free school meals not able to read well by age 11, OECD research showing that our 16 to 24 year old’s literacy skills rank 22nd out of 24 in international comparisons, one becomes aware that we have a massive literacy challenge here in the UK.  So what can we do?   

Those of us who work in publishing are passionate about books and learning, unsurprisingly as we have a vested interest, and as a sector we already proudly support a large number of imaginative reading initiatives to improve the standards of literacy in this country.  By joining together with the many excellent charities in the UK, publishers have over the years provided financial, material and in-kind support to the valuable programmes operating in schools, libraries, prisons and the wider community.    

The educational and financial benefits (not to mention the spiritual and life-enhancing ones) which come with being able to read may be difficult to fully quantify but the National Literacy Trust puts the economic gain at £32 billion if action is taken now to ensure all children are reading well by the age of eleven by 2025.  This must surely make addressing this issue one of importance not only to the charities active in this area and those of us who are part of the ‘reading’ community, but to the Government and businesses as well.   

That is why The PA and many of our member companies are active in the Read On Get On campaign – a cross-sector coalition, led by Save the Children, which includes many of the UK’s literacy charities, parenting organisations and teaching unions with the stated (and dated!) goal of ensuring that every child leaves primary school at age eleven able to read well by 2025.   

It also neatly complements other work being undertaken by us to underline how ‘reading for pleasure’ is fundamental to the success and happiness of every citizen.  Taking advantage of a ready-made community of passionate and engaged people who understand the importance and power of reading for pleasure, The PA has spent the last year taking our ‘Reading for Pleasure’ Roadshow around publishing houses and giving the UK’s literacy charities a platform to explain directly to our workforce how they can get involved, pledge their support and be part of the solution.   

This ‘Reading for Pleasure’ initiative, rooted in bringing together charities and organisations in the UK which are dedicated to encouraging reading and increasing levels of literacy amongst both children and adults, is now being taken into the wider literary community.  Our roadshow is now travelling to literary festivals and other similar events where people who love books and reading congregate. We want to build an army of reading ambassadors, equipped to go out in their communities and encourage people to read. 

Increasing levels of literacy and the number of people reading for pleasure is an important challenge which, working in partnership with the UK’s literacy charities and others who share this passion, the publishing industry is proud to take on.Working together we have the opportunity to make the case more vocally and more coherently for the importance of reading in everyone’s lives.