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Beanstalk launches Charter for Children’s Literacy to mark 40th anniversary

27 February 2013

Charity calls for government, business and education sector action to support young people’s reading

National charity Beanstalk has today published a Charter for Children’s Literacy, calling for a raft of interventions to improve reading standards amongst young people. Currently, one in eight children in the UK leaves primary school unable to read to the required standards.

The charity’s recommendations include reform of the primary curriculum to foster creativity by reducing testing, and government funding to provide a trained reading helper in every primary school in the country.

The launch of the Charter marks the 40th anniversary of the charity, which trains volunteers to give one-to-one support in school to children who are struggling with reading. The charity has a network of over 2,100 reading helpers supporting 6,400 children across the country.

High profile support for the Charter has come from former Ofsted Director Sir Jim Rose, HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, Chair of the EU High Level Group on Literacy, and children’s authors Charlie Higson and Julia Donaldson. Further insights were collected from the CBI, charity heads across the literacy sphere and publishers including HarperCollins, who sponsored the Charter.

Sue Porto, Chief Executive of Beanstalk, said: “Once young children fall behind in their reading, they struggle to catch up and this damages attainment across their school subjects, significantly reducing their future chances in life.

“The impact on people and society of poor levels of literacy in children is enormous, with repercussions throughout adulthood in terms of long term poverty, unemployment, ill health and offending behaviour. Early intervention to reduce illiteracy is an effective and efficient way to bring about positive change.”

In addition to recommendations for government and educationalists, Beanstalk is calling for support from the business world, asking companies to enable their staff to become reading helpers and visit schools to assist children with their literacy. The Charter reflects positive attitudes to the children’s publishing industry and reflects the many opportunities to make the most of new digital reading technologies.

Victoria Barnsley, Chief Executive of HarperCollins, said: “Like all publishers, at HarperCollins we are passionate about great story telling and introducing readers to the power of compelling narrative. We now have all the new opportunities offered by the digital world to excite and entertain new readers and, hopefully, to open their eyes to the pleasures of reading.

“HarperCollins is proud to sponsor The Beanstalk Charter for Children’s Literacy and we hope that it will inspire government, businesses and schools to take the necessary steps to ensure that the next generation of children is able to participate fully in the joy and delights of reading.”

Surveyed for the report, Beanstalk reading helpers highlighted the difficulties faced by children whose parents are unable or unwilling to read with them at home, with a quarter saying that the most significant impact of Beanstalk’s work was helping to prevent illiteracy in the next generation, as children supported by Beanstalk will grow up better able to read with their own children.

Sue Porto continued: “Beanstalk is determined to break the cycle of illiteracy through early intervention by our trusted and professional reading helpers, who use individualised and fun methods to complement classroom learning and the valuable work that teachers do.

“As we mark our 40th anniversary and look forward to the next 40 years, we are calling for the support of a wide variety of stakeholders in effecting change and inspiring the next generation’s love of reading.”

The Charter for Children’s Literacy recommendations in full:

For government –

  • Fund a trained reading helper in every primary school in the country
  • Equip every primary school with a library by providing funding and catalysing local business partnerships, with the library facilities to be inspected by Ofsted
  • Acknowledge and measure the impact that illiteracy has on GDP and prosperity, and prioritise literacy in communities where it would otherwise ‘sink to the bottom’ due to other, shorter-term, concerns
  • Require local authorities to increase and measure the assistance they give to parents of pre-schoolers seeking to improve their children’s literacy
  • Reform the primary curriculum to prioritise creativity by reducing testing, particularly in early years
  • Adopt a broader, joined-up approach that helps children to apply learning to real life and emphasises the purposes and pleasures of reading through playful and practical activities

 For the teaching profession –

  • Ensure teacher training builds teachers’ knowledge of contemporary children’s literature
  • Employ a broad repertoire of methods to teach reading, adapted to individual children, and empower teachers to identify those children for whom extra, one-to-one support would offer a vital intervention
  • Invite authors, reading helpers, and local businesspeople into the classroom to give children a wider view of the opportunities and benefits of literacy
  • Primary headteachers and governing bodies to support continuous professional development and training for staff, ensuring excellence across their teaching teams
  • Acknowledge changing definitions of ‘literacy’ and ‘texts’ in light of new technology and styles of communication, ensuring that all children’s literacies are recognised as methods of meaning-making, understanding and creative expression

For business and the children’s publishing industry –

  • Businesses to enable staff to volunteer in their local schools through extended CSR policies
  • Businesses to raise children’s aspirations by organising school visits that open their eyes to career opportunities
  • Publishers to continue to invest in the children’s literature market, providing a range of eye catching titles, enriching storylines and engaging authors, to give primary teachers and reading helpers the very broadest possible range of books with which to engage under-confident or unenthusiastic readers
  • Publishers to work with teachers to create new texts and materials that address classroom needs
  • Publishers to make the most of the full range of print and digital platforms to help inspire a love of reading in children and provide works that parents are keen to revisit time and again

Download The Beanstalk Charter for Children’s Literacy

For more information, please contact Thea Warren, Amy MacLaren or Clare Keeling at Four Colman Getty:

T: 0870 626 9000  |  M: 07980 843 088  |  E:

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About Beanstalk

1. Beanstalk is a national literacy charity that recruits, vets, trains and supports volunteers to work in primary schools with children who have fallen behind with their reading. Its vision is a nation of confident children who can read and grow up to lead successful lives. Website

2. Beanstalk reading helpers work with children on a one-to-one basis, giving them their full attention and support to improve reading levels, increase overall confidence and inspire a lifelong love of reading.

3. Each Beanstalk reading helper works with three children and sees each child for two 30 minute sessions a week, during term-time, for a whole year. Together, they read, play and talk. With Beanstalk's support the child's approach to learning and enjoying reading is often transformed.

4. Beanstalk works in areas of deprivation across England through 17 branches in the North, Midlands, Greater London and Kent.

5. Beanstalk was founded in 1973 as Volunteer Reading Help by Susan Belgrave MBE, Beanstalk’s President. This year sees it celebrate its 40th Anniversary.

About HarperCollins

HarperCollins UK publishes a wide range of books, from cutting-edge contemporary fiction, to block-busting thrillers, from fantasy literature and children’s stories to enduring classics. It also publishes a great selection of non-fiction titles, including history, celebrity memoirs, biographies, popular science, dictionaries, maps, reference titles and education books, and its digital business is thriving. With nearly 200 years of history HarperCollins publishes some of the world’s foremost authors, from Nobel prize winners to worldwide bestsellers. In addition it publishes the works of Agatha Christie, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. It was the first major UK trade publisher to go carbon neutral in December 2007.

HC UK and International is responsible for the UK and Ireland, India, Australia and New Zealand and is a division of HarperCollins Publishers, one of the leading English-language book publishers in the world, with operations in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. HarperCollins Publishers is a wholly-owned division of News Corporation, the diversified global media company.