Historian Dan Snow: teaching all children to read is ‘a solvable problem’

Helping all children to read well is “a solvable problem”, according to television historian Dan Snow.

The BBC presenter was talking to TES in support of the literacy charity Beanstalk as part of Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to celebrating charity work.

He said: “I visit a lot of schools and have seen the importance of reading. And Beanstalk is really taking the fight on literacy into schools, taking it to young people. It is a very real problem, but it is a solvable problem. When Beanstalk works with children nearly all of them benefit enormously from that experience.

“If Beanstalk can get the funding to get to those kids, they can make a fundamental difference.”

He added that he is currently “staggering through the works of Julia Donaldson’s back catalogue” [the former children’s laureate best known for The Gruffalo] with his own children, Zia, 4, and Wolf, 1, whom he reads to as much as possible.

“In today’s world, without literacy, you’ve got nothing,” said Snow. “You cannot engage with the internet, you can’t engage fully with society, and so literacy is hugely important in today’s world and I suspect it may be more important in the years ahead.”

Beanstalk recruits, trains and supports volunteers to undertake one-to-one literacy support in primary schools.

Each reading helper supports three children, seeing each for two 30-minute sessions a week for a year. Last year, government statistics revealed that the proportion of pupils reaching the expected reading standard, level 4, at the end of primary school remained at 89 per cent. But 80 per cent of children reached the tougher level 4b in reading, the level which is roughly equivalent to the new higher standard expected for pupils leaving primary.

A spokesman for Beanstalk said: “Beanstalk is very proud to count Dan Snow as one of our supporters. He has the ability to make history and storytelling engaging and fun for people of all ages – values which Beanstalk reading helpers try to get across in their reading sessions. We believe that by making reading and storytelling fun, we can help provide children with the skills, confidence and imagination to reach their true potential.”

It is the second year that Giving Tuesday has taken place in the UK. The day began in the United States as a response to the shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In contrast, Giving Tuesday encourages people to do something for a good cause, and Beanstalk has signed up as one of the partners.

Read the full interview with Dan Snow in TES this Friday.

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