Kids will work on their vocabulary with shoe-fitting staff

Almost 100 business across the UK have signed up to a government scheme fighting child illiteracy

A new government child literacy scheme will see 6,500 Clarks staff trained in children’s speech development in a bid to fight rising illiteracy levels.

Almost 100 business, charities and public sector organisations around the country are pledging projects to improve literacy and language skills among young children, including HarperCollins grants for independent bookshops to support events targeted at young children; WHSmiths supporting literacy programmes in Swindon, where there are high levels of illiteracy; and Adds Foods giving its employees with children aged five or under to use its language lab facilities in Nottingham.

Last year an Oxford University Press study showed more than 40 per cent of five and six-year-olds did not have a large enough vocabulary to do well in school. Meanwhile, a Nielsen Book Research study last year found that only half of pre-school aged children are being read to on a daily basis.

National Literacy Trust research suggests that 7.1 million adults in the UK have poor literacy skills. This means pledges which train adult employees will play a key role in boosting language skills among children, according to the government.

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Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “We want to create a generation of confident learners who can read and communicate effectively – these are vital skills that children need to grasp from the earliest opportunity in order to succeed.

“There’s no instruction manual for being a parent. For some who left school a long time ago or who have low confidence in their own abilities, it can be overwhelming to know where to start with supporting children’s learning at home before they start school – and we know that too many children are arriving at school already behind their peers.

“By working with a growing number of businesses, charities and experts, we’re making it easier for parents to kickstart this early development – helping to take forward our national mission to boost children’s early development. New projects are being set up all over the country and our expert panel will create trusted tools that parents can be confident using, so that every child develops the skills they need to thrive.”

The Department for Education is also assembling a new advisory panel to examine existing apps which are supposed to help parents support their children’s learning. The panel will be headed by Jackie Marsh, Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield and leading figure in children’s digital literacy.