Literacy, reading and cultural education

Innovation cannot flourish without a strong cultural environment which encourages and rewards imagination and creativity.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. SF had been disapproved of for a long time. At one point I took a top official aside and asked him what had changed? "It's simple," he told me. "The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Neil Gaiman


Research by the Reading Agency has shown that:

  • Low levels of literacy cost the UK an estimated £81 billion a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending, impacting on the success of the economy as a whole. 
  • 16 year-olds who choose to read books for pleasure outside of school are more likely to secure managerial or professional jobs in later life.
  • In England and Northern Ireland the median hourly wage of workers with the highest levels of literacy is 94% higher than for workers who have the lowest levels of literacy.

We believe that a thorough review should be carried out of the UK’s strategies for teaching literacy. Evidence does not support the Government’s current emphasis on phonics and grammatical structure. As our members who write for children said in 2016 in their statement on the teaching of writing:

"We are worried that when the Government steps in too far, the resultant teaching no longer reflects what writing really does. This happens, for instance, when the Department for Education in England uses new terminology for grammatical structure (such as ‘fronted adverbs’), or states that exclamation marks must only end sentences that begin with ‘what’ or ‘how’. These practices risk alienating, confusing and demoralising children with restrictions on language just at the time when they need to be excited by the possibilities."

It is also essential that literacy teaching is available well beyond school, including in community centres and prisons.

Reading for pleasure

Reading is about far more than just literacy. We believe that all children should be encouraged to read (and write) for pleasure, both non-fiction and fiction. There is strong evidence that reading for pleasure develops empathy, curiosity and imagination. Our Reading for Pleasure Award enables visiting authors to reward schools doing inspiring work to encourage reading for pleasure.

We support The Publishers Association's Reading Ambassadors scheme, which calls on all book lovers to become ambassadors for reading in their communities.

Cultural education

We need to foster creativity by ensuring a wide creative education in all the arts. As Darren Henley concluded in his 2012 review of cultural education, “the skills which young people learn from studying Cultural Education subjects help to ensure that the UK has over many years built up a Creative and Cultural Industries sector which is, in many areas, world-beating.” We are against any education system which streams arts and science students apart or which encourages one path at a very early stage. We remain concerned the Government’s current emphasis on EBacc subjects risks devaluing the learning of creative subjects.

We welcome news that Ofsted's new inspection framework will focus less on exam results and more on the overall breadth and quality of education. We hope that the new approach will go some way to addressing the current imbalance and encouraging more schools to take up creative subjects.

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