Chief Executive blog: Housing providers can play an important role in making learning fun.

This week’s OECD adult skills survey report shows strikingly poor levels of literacy and numeracy amongst 16–24 year-olds in England. In response to England being ranked near the bottom of 24 developed countries, the CBI has warned of a "slow motion car crash for the economy". And the BBC’s Robert Peston has published a fascinating analysis of what poor levels of literacy and numeracy means for our ability to compete with other nations. 

Research has shown that poverty predicts educational outcomes in the UK more strongly than in any other developed country, and inequalities have an effect from a very early age. By the age of three, children from poorer families can lag as much as nine months behind their better-off peers. This gap grows over time, with many poor children falling two years behind by the age of 14. 

The role of housing providers

Improving children’s literacy levels is the key to driving up skills for the future, so we need to instil a love of reading from the start. Housing providers can play a key role in this. At Peabody we provide homes for over 55,000 people across 28 London boroughs. Our work with theNational Literacy Trust helps make learning a fun part of everyday life for families in our communities. 

We are also piloting a project on four of our estates in Hackney, Westminster and Islington called "Reading from the Start". The project aims to improve literacy skills, through fostering a love of reading, for 200 children, starting from as early an age as possible and continuing up until their fifth birthday. 

We will work with parents, teachers, children and other charities to make a real difference to young lives; boosting skills in literacy, language, communication and social interaction. Excitingly, we’re delivering the pilots in association with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library which distributed 7.6m books in 2012 alone.   

How it works 

Every month, each child will receive a book, and the whole family will receive support from trained volunteers and community workers. All households in our pilot areas will be invited to register their children for the scheme, which we will promote through posters and leaflets, and through face-to-face conversations with residents.

In every project location, we will create a "Reading Corner", with storage for books and materials, and comfortable seating. All registered children will be invited to share the books they’ve received during two-hour storytime sessions facilitated by volunteers who — along with the parents — will read with children and supervise book-related crafts, music and play.

Support us

While the children are doing this, parents will also have the opportunity to meet other parents in an informal setting, and talk to community workers about any additional support needs they might have. Following this pilot, we hope to extend the project to other Peabody estates, aiming to reach 1,250 children in five years’ time. 

Reading from the start