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Ready to read: Closing the gap in early language skills so that every child in England can read well

Being able to read well is vital for a child’s prospects at school and in life. Yet every year, almost 148,000 children leave primary school in England unable to read well. This includes one third of all children growing up in poverty. For many, the impact on their life chances is likely to be dramatic. This national failing helps explain the persistent educational divide in England that, each year, prevents thousands of our poorest children from fulfilling their potential.

Making sure that every child leaves primary school able to read well is a crucial part of efforts to turn this unacceptable situation around – so that every child succeeds, regardless of their background. This is why Read On. Get On. – a campaign coalition of major literacy and communication charities, libraries, teaching unions and publishers – is focused on ensuring that every child can read well by the age of 11. In England, we want to achieve this by 2025. We’re committed to building a national mission to tackle underachievement in reading, drawing in energy and expertise from across society.

Learning to read well starts early, and good early language skills are the vital stepping stone. If children do not learn to speak and listen from an early age, along with developing their understanding of the meaning of words and stories, they will struggle to learn to read well when they get to primary school. The Read On. Get On. campaign has therefore set an interim goal that every five-year-old in England has good language skills by 2020.

This report explains why children’s early language skills are so important for learning to read, and why poor children face the greatest risk of falling behind from an early age. It shows that without a step-change in support for children’s early language development, particularly for the poorest children, we will never achieve our goal of all children leaving primary school able to read well. Boosting children’s early language skills is therefore critical to narrow the attainment gap and improve the life chances of our poorest children.