Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
7:47 AM 12th February 2022

Weekend Interview: Understanding The Power Of Literacy With Jason Vit

Jason Vit has a way with words. As the enthusiastic Head of Local Areas for the National Literacy Trust, he gets the importance of encouraging and inspiring people to understand the transformational power of literacy.

We have just started chatting and are discussing the magic involved in reading, writing and numeracy and how important it is in giving individuals the confidence to succeed in life.
Report after report cites that children who enjoyed reading do better at everything later in life.

I have been extolling the virtues of storytelling and how powerful it is in everyday life to which Jason says: “Your point about the magic and the joy of stories Andrew is important, and no one with kids should think that reading is not for them. Reading is just a pantomime on a page, a play on paper or a movie in between the pages. It’s about remembering that reading isn’t a must that has to be done from beginning to end.

“A football programme is reading, and a text message is reading and writing; it isn’t about books and sitting there and being bored. It is about ideas, celebration and exploration.”

Those inspirational comments remind me of Lord Digby Jones who I worked with at the CBI, he was just as passionate about literacy for young people and would convey messages in an equally compelling manner. Disappointingly, the statistics have not moved much either since Lord Jones’ time at the CBI.

The statistics for adults with a reading level below that expected for an 11-year-old, is over 5 million for England alone. So, we are talking substantial numbers and low literacy for adults and children is tightly tied to levels of deprivation in this country.

The poorest areas are where the most people with the lowest literacy skills are found. It is a vicious cycle that feeds into itself, making it more difficult to overcome the impact of poverty.

Jason tells me there are lots of national and international studies that have proven repeatedly that the single most crucial factor in determining long term outcomes for anybody, is if as a child, they enjoyed reading. “It is more important than parents’ socio economic status: earnings, health, wealth and wellbeing.

“Report after report cites that children who enjoyed reading do better at everything later in life.”

This highlights the reason I am chatting with Jason as it links to the Government’s levelling up agenda.

The National Literacy Trust is a UK wide charity with a broad definition of literacy; it’s about speaking, listening, reading and writing. And its aim is to make sure everyone has the skills they need for life because low literacy skills impact on attainment and qualifications which in turn, effects earning potential and income. It also has a wider influence, hindering people who want to engage in civil society and may not take part for example in the democratic process of voting. It even touches on life expectancy.

The National Literacy Trust says that as a nation, we will only be able to truly level up if literacy is embedded at the heart of the government’s strategy.
Jason Vit
Jason Vit
Jason Vit’s tips on what we can all do.
1.Be a literacy /reading champion in your everyday life. Be seen in public on the bus or on a lunch break talking to people about what you are reading and why it is interesting. Remember you are not out there to change the person you are talking to, but you are making the conversation about literacy and reading more normal.

2.Be reassured, we have all the evidence and research that reading in digital format is great. Audio books are fantastic as are comics, graphic novels. We need to make sure there is no snobbery around reading just being about books. It isn’t.

3.Have in mind a few other statistics especially if for example you are an employer. There are over 5 million adults who have literacy problems. Just being willing to talk about it and being upfront in staff reviews helps, especially if it becomes normal to say: “Oh. We are talking to everyone about literacy and numeracy. We are not talking to you personally because you have a problem. It then becomes part of our culture to be a literacy friendly workplace. It is about personal advocacy on a day-to-day level but then there are also things that can be done in a professional level if that is your job.

4. In the home you can encourage reading by gifting a book for a child you know as part of a birthday present – and if you’re a grandparent, make time to read with grandchildren.

5.If you see a movie and you love it, and it happens to be a book or there is a book about it - grab it and pass it on

6.Take children to the library and sign them up.
The important thing about literacy is that it is an everyday thing, but it should also be fun and enjoyable.
Jason is pleased the government has committed to ensuring that 90% of children who leave primary school reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030. The current average is 65% so in eight years to increase to 90% is going to take a huge collective effort.
That is why investment in schools in our most disadvantaged communities is essential and the announcement of Education Investment Areas is welcomed by the National Literacy Trust.

The Trust has a national network of 14 Hubs in many of these areas which highlights the power of place-based working in addressing the literacy challenge in the most disadvantaged communities and helping to tackle intergenerational low literacy.

The Trust works across the North with hubs in a number of towns and cities. In Yorkshire, they work in Bradford, Doncaster and across the North Yorkshire Coast (in Scarborough, Whitby and Filey). There are North West hubs in Manchester and Blackpool, and they work across the North East with a particular focus in Middlesbrough.

“We must not underestimate the scale of this challenge. We know that when schools work with partners, from businesses to community organisations, together they can excite and inspire young people, creating aspiration and an excitement about learning. The extraordinary challenge of post pandemic education recovery requires extraordinary resources, these partnerships are an essential part of the response.”

I am keen to explore the importance of partnerships. A third of the National Literacy Trust’s funding comes from businesses like British Land, WH Smith and other major names and it works with the Premier League.

“Partnerships are sometimes about motivation and inspiration. Sometimes it’s about funding and very often in our hubs it is about partners who have a connection into communities where we might want to work. There is a role for anybody to help and support to improve literacy and equally there is a role for literacy to help anybody meet their goals and outcomes,” Jason says.

It is good to hear of how the corporate world is getting involved because the skills agenda is changing employment needs which are more around modernisation, computerisation and mechanisation – and the common denominator - literacy.

It is all about ensuring that young people can succeed wherever they are born.
These new skills are a must for any job, as Jason points out: “there is almost nowhere now where you could learn on the job and not have to learn to read and write to a decent level.

“From that point of view, it is in the interest of employers, unions and everyone else to support the literacy agenda.”

You are not going to make the difference immediately, but you can over time.

Jason tells me that at the highest level the organisation is having a levelling up dialogue with the Government.
It is all positive. One of the other good things that the white paper points out is that literacy is more than classrooms. It is also about the entire package of levelling up and about opportunity and aspiration.
The challenges are big, real and every day they are important and can be met.

With a force of energy exuded by Jason I conclude the interview but not before giving him an opportunity to do what he did at the beginning and offer some inspirational words.

“It is all about ensuring that young people can succeed wherever they are born. We know from our work that good literacy outcomes are obviously more than just schools, they are about what happens in the homes but also what motivates and inspires a young person.

“We really see that literacy is not just about a functional skill, it is about attitudes and behaviours, and they come when people can see there are chances for them to succeed in life.”

The National Literacy Trust makes as much resource as possible freely available on its website. It’s the best place to start.