London is in the grip of a literacy crisis. One million people in this great city cannot read.

In London, the home of Charles DickensShakespeare’s Globe, and T S Eliot, schools are, in 2011, churning out illiterate pupils at unacceptably high rates.

This is a betrayal of children, but it is a tragedy for society, too. The conveyor belt from illiteracy to exclusion to unemployment and, all too often, criminality, is well documented. A recent Prison Reform Trust study found 48 per cent of inmates have the reading age of a seven-year-old or younger.

Years of government initiatives and investment have failed to solve the problem and has created a generation incapable of deciphering basic words on timetables, receipts or medicine labels.

One million adult Londoners – one in six – are functionally illiterate. Evidence shows they are more likely to end up on state benefits, in overcrowded housing, divorced, in poor health and in prison.

The scandal goes to the heart of the education system. One in four children is practically illiterate on leaving primary school.

London has unrivalled bookshops, libraries, publishers and writers. It is a world centre for the written word, yet one in three children grows up without a single book of their own. That number is rising. Without books, they have a much greater chance of spending a lifetime unable to read.

The cost to them and to us is incalculable.

Illiteracy in London: The facts…

1 in 4 children in London leaves primary school at 11 unable to read or write properly

1 in 5 leaves secondary school without being able to read or write with confidence

One million (or one in six) working adults in the capital cannot read with confidence. Nationally, five per cent of adults in England have literacy skills either at or below the level of a seven-year-old

16 per cent is the estimated proportion of 16- to 65-year-olds with the reading age of an 11-year-old. Of these, about five per cent are believed to have skills at the same level or below that of a seven-year-old

40 per cent of 11-year-olds from inner-city primary schools have a reading age of between six and nine when they start secondary school

1 in 5 pupils at inner London schools has special educational needs, such as dyslexia

40 per cent of London firms say their employees have poor literacy skills – and report that it has a negative impact on their business

The full facts are stark: one in four children leaves the capital’s state primaries unable to read properly. Five per cent can hardly read at all. In inner-city schools 40 per cent leave primary school with the reading age of a six to nine-year-old, says the Centre for Policy Studies.

Illiteracy Rate of Women Worldwide (Click to enlarge)


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