National Literacy Trust launches new digital platforms for parents and teachers to support literacy of children most affected by COVID-19

The National Literacy Trust has enlisted the support of its Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, and leading children’s authors to launch two new digital platforms for parents and teachers to support the literacy of children who have been most adversely affected by COVID-19.

School closures as a result of COVID-19 could see the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their better-off peers widen by as much as 75% to 16 months. This is a gap many may never recover from, as these children were already almost twice as likely as their better-off peers to leave primary school unable to read and write at level expected for their age and to leave secondary school without good GCSEs in English language and maths.

New research from the National Literacy Trust also found that, during lockdown, 1 in 4 (22.5%) parents said their children did not have access to books of their own or library books, while half of parents (50.1%) said they would like more digital resources to support their child’s literacy at home.

To help children who have fallen behind with their literacy and to safeguard children’s access to books and families’ access to literacy support in the event of future local lockdowns, the National Literacy Trust has launched a Virtual School Library http://virtualschoollibrary.org.uk to give every primary school child in the UK access to books all year round, and its new Words for Life website to provide families with fun activities to support their children’s literacy at home https://wordsforlife.org.uk. Kindred2, a charitable foundation, has supported the creation of both the Virtual School Library and Words for Life.

In an exclusive video, recorded during a visit to Ivydale Primary School in London last week, Her Royal Highness launches the charity’s new Virtual School Library. The Virtual School Library will provide all primary school children in the UK with a free ebook or audiobook, an exclusive video and engaging activities from a different beloved children’s author or illustrator every week. Partnerships with publishers including Bloomsbury Publishing, Bonnier Books and Penguin Random House will ensure the books and activities featured support children’s wellbeing through reading.

The Virtual School Library will give children vital access to books all year round, whether they are learning at school or at home. Its first guest school librarians are children’s authors Greg James and Chris Smith who have shared an exciting new video, a free audiobook from their Kid Normal series (published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books), some super literacy activities and their top three recommended children’s books.

The duo also feature in the launch video alongside author Katherine Rundell, who earlier this year collated The Book of Hopes (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) – a collection of poems, short stories and pictures from more than 110 authors and illustrators to comfort, inspire and entertain children during lockdown.

In the video, Rundell introduces The Book of Hopes, which is free to read exclusively on the National Literacy Trust’s website, and authors Greg James, Chris Smith and Rutendo Tavengerwei share their poems from the collection. Five primary school children who are supported by the National Literacy Trust’s work across the UK also share their very own jokes inspired by The Incredible Instant Joke-Creating Machine by Susie Day, which is also included in the collection.

In the video, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall said: “I love libraries. They are absolute treasure troves of knowledge, wisdom and hope. Enter a library and you will suddenly find you are able to walk through wardrobes and pop out of rabbit holes and play Quidditch and maybe even steal the Crown Jewels… I am delighted to launch the National Literacy Trust’s Virtual School Library. What a fantastic idea it is: a library that allows us to read books online, meet authors, see inside their writing rooms and enjoy reading activities – all from our own armchairs. I know children will have a fabulous time exploring it.”

The National Literacy Trust has also launched its words for Life website today, which is filled with simple, fun and educational tips, activities and resources to help parents support their children’s learning and literacy at home: https://wordsforlife.org.uk. Parents and families can expect themed book lists, quizzes, creative activities, tips and advice to help children of all ages to improve their reading, writing and communication skills from home.

The website brings together all of the National Literacy Trust’s existing digital support for parents in one place, including the charity’s hugely popular Family Zone, which supported more than 400,000 families with home learning resources during lockdown, and its Small Talk website, developed in partnership with the Department for Education’s Hungry Little Minds campaign, which provides parents of children aged 0-5 with simple activities to build into their daily routines to support their children’s early language development.

Jonathan Douglas, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust, said: “We must do everything we can to support the literacy, learning and wellbeing of all children as they return to school after such a significant disruption to their education, particularly those who have been hit the hardest. As the nation marks 150 years of state education, the new school year will see a marked change in how children are taught, with blended learning at school and at home, so we must also adapt how we support children, teachers and families through this transition.

“Our Virtual School Library will ensure children who need it most have access to the magical world of stories all year round while our Words for Life website will provide parents with the activities they told us they need to help support their child’s literacy at home. Together, we can ensure that the impact of COVID-19 does not last a lifetime for any child.”

Department for Education, said: “We are delighted that the National Literacy Trust has launched Words for Life to enhance the learning capabilities of children at home. This is a great example of Government and charities working together in our shared ambition to improve the outcomes for every child, no matter their background. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that learning at home is now more important than ever, and this site is a fantastic resource to enhance children’s education as they return to nursery and school.”

Visit the National Literacy Trust’s Virtual School Library to view the launch video with HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and to explore a free audiobook and activities from Greg James and Chris Smith: http://virtualschoollibrary.org.uk

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