National Literacy Trust

National Literacy Trust

The National Literacy Trust is an independent charity (registered No. 1116260) based in London, England, that promotes literacy.

It was founded by Sir Simon Hornby, former chairman of the major national retail chain, WHSmith PLC. Its current Director is Jonathan Douglas.

The charity campaigns to improve understanding of the vital importance of literacy, supports those trying to improve their literacy and conducts research on issues relating to literacy. It also works with teachers, literacy professionals and librarians, providing literacy news and teaching resources to the 48,000 visitors to its website every month. The Wikireadia website has enabled professionals to share over 1,200 best practice case studies to date. Since 1993, the National Literacy Trust has leveraged over £3million from the business sector and £2.7million from trusts and foundations to support its work, which has potentially reached well in excess of 18 million children and adults. The National Literacy Trust is based in Vauxhall in the London Borough of Lambeth.


History of the National Literacy Trust

The idea for a charity specifically promoting literacy emerged after Sir Simon Hornby became aware, in his capacity as a trustee for the British Dyslexia Association, of the “highly fragmented approach to literacy in the UK, which had a direct impact on the effectiveness of programmes directed at people with dyslexia at all ages”. With encouragement from his fellow trustees, Sir Simon commissioned research from the public relations department of WHSmith into the need for a national literacy agency. After a year of interviews with educational specialists, government officials, and the statutory and voluntary agencies whose work had a literacy component, the study’s conclusion was unequivocal: “No agency existed whose specific remit was to promote the issue of literacy, in its many social, political and cultural dimensions, to stimulate new literacy initiatives, and to promote public awareness of the significance of the issue and of practical means to improve literacy standards in all age groups”.[1]

Sir Simon retained a recruitment consultancy in early 1992 to identify an appropriate individual with the skills to develop a national organisation dedicated to literacy. Among the candidates put forward, Sir Simon was most impressed by Usha Prashar (now Baroness Prashar of Runnymede). As the former director of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), with a particular interest in organisational development, Baroness Prashar had a record of achievement which Sir Simon regarded as ideally suited for the establishment of the new organisation. Baroness Prashar was attracted by the opportunity to build an organisation whose need had already been demonstrated and was impressed by the personal commitment demonstrated by Sir Simon for its implementation.

Baroness Prashar accepted the assignment to establish the core objectives of the new organisation and to work with Sir Simon in securing the voluntary funding necessary for the first years of its operation. Building on the research conducted by WHSmith, Baroness Prashar conducted over 40 interviews with literacy specialists at the Institute of Education of the University of London, with senior executives from statutory and non-governmental organisations dealing with literacy, and with officers from trusts and foundations funding educational development. The conclusions of this work were broadly in line with the previous study. There was a consensus that significant advances could be made by: the identification and dissemination of best practices in the UK, the United States and elsewhere; a renewed effort to raise the profile of literacy as a political and pedagogical issue; and the stimulation of new initiatives, highlighting, in particular, the important role of a conducive family environment.[2]

Following these significant early signs of encouragement and pledges of core funding from WHSmith PLC, from Pearson PLC and from Book Tokens PLC, Sir Simon pushed for the formal establishment of a new charitable organisation, the National Literacy Trust, even before the recruitment of a full-time director.

Having persuaded Diana Baring and Martyn Goff (a former director of the National Book League/ Booktrust) to become trustees, the National Literacy Trust was legally registered as a charity on 19 November 1992 by Sir Simon.[3] Its strategic remit was to “advance public education in Reading, Writing and other literacy skills… and to cooperate and collaborate with voluntary bodies and statutory authorities operating in similar charitable fields and to exchange information and advice”. Following an extensive selection process, Neil McClelland was appointed to the role of full-time Director in September 1993, in time for the press launch of the charity in October 1993.

At the end of 2006 Neil McClelland retired from his position as Director and was succeeded by Jonathan Douglas in January 2007. Douglas was previously Head of Policy Development at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, where he also worked as Head of Learning and Access. He had also worked as a librarian and in children’s services for Westminster Libraries. Douglas is on the Advisory Committee of the Man Booker Prize and the Chair of Governors at his local primary school.

Campaigning work

The National Literacy Trust campaigns to improve public understanding of the vital importance and impact of literacy. The Manifesto for Literacy, developed in consultation with over 30 national organisations and launched in September 2009, called on all political parties to prioritise literacy in the run-up to the 2010 election. Developed in consultation with over 20 national organisations, the manifesto shows how poor literacy in the UK creates barriers to achievement, undermines a skill-based economy and causes acute social and cultural problems that divide communities. The manifesto makes specific recommendations for government to develop literacy support for families, to modernise literacy in the curriculum and to run a national campaign taking literacy to new audiences.[4]

The Reading for Life campaign is the National Literacy Trust’s ongoing media and social marketing campaign to take literacy to new audiences. In 2009/2010, as part of the Reading for Life campaign, the National Literacy Trust began working with consumer brands to take powerful messages about the value of literacy to families from lower income social grades, non-professional households and those dependent on benefits. Tapping into the established relationships that major brands and products have with these demographic groups, the campaign has already run promotions with Marmite, Iceland supermarkets, Lloyds Pharmacies and Wiseman Dairies.

This campaign continues the work the National Literacy Trust and its partners undertook for the 2008 National Year of Reading, a year-long celebration of reading, designed to promote reading in the family and beyond, and to help build a nation of readers. Its purpose was to encourage reading for pleasure in order to improve learning, achievement and individual prospects. The campaign aimed both to attract new audiences to reading and to develop existing skills. It targeted specific sections of the population including families from lower income/ non-professional/ households on benefits, Bangladeshi and Pakistani children and adults with literacy needs.

The campaign reached 13 million people and 2.3 million new library members were recruited through the first ever national promotion of library membership.[5]

In December 2010 the National Literacy Trust launched its gift of reading campaign, which, like other ethical gifts, encourages individuals to make a donation on behalf of another in place of a Christmas present. Tapping into the fact that approximately one in four children in the UK do not have books of their own,[6] the National Literacy Trust asks that donors give so that they can continue to provide disadvantaged children with free books, as well as carry out their other functions. In return the donor, or their nominated recipient, is sent an exclusive Gruffalo Christmas cards, as designed by Axel Scheffler, and courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Books.


The National Literacy Trust conducts research to improve and measure the effectiveness of services and support for people who need help with literacy. This includes examining issues such as the impact of social media on children’s writing,[7] the impact of baby buggies on language development[8] and the correlation between literacy skills and life outcomes.[9]

(2009) Young People's Writing: Attitudes, behaviour and the role of technology. [1]. The first significant study on young people's attitudes to writing, taking into account social demographic background, mobile telephone ownership and membership of a social networking website. Christina Clark & George Dugdale (2009).

2010 Boys, Girls and Communication:[10] Christina Clark (2011) In June/July 2010 The National Literacy Trust conducted a large scale survey of young peoples attitudes towards communication skills, how they felt about it, whether good communication skills mattered in the workplace, school or other environments to them. The research focused on Girls and Boys attitudes to communication skills, the emphasis they placed on them and the confidence they displayed when using them.

(2010) Young People Reading: The importance of the home environment and family support. [2]. This paper explores the kind of support young people have at home to encourage them to read, for instance, who in the house is seen to be reading. It takes into account the different demorgraphic backgrounds and how this affects enjoyment, attitudes and behaviour as well as reading attainment. Christina Clark & Lucy Hawkins (2010).

2011 Young People's Reading and Writing:[11] Christina Clark & Jonathan Douglas (2011) In 2009 over 17,000 children took part in a study to ascertain children's attitudes to reading and writing. The study also contained summary on what type of texts young people read and why, as well as what they thought about reading and writing. Young people were asked if they thought of themselves as a good reader along with how reading, enjoyment and attainment was gauged in 2010 compared with that of 2005.

2010 Linking Schools, Libraries and Literacy:[12] Christina Clark (2010) This study provides further evidence on young people's reading and writing based on the National Literacy Trust survey of 2009, for full information see the full report in Young People's Reading and Writing as outlined above. This brief paper provides information on young people's attitudes to school libraries.[13] Emiliy McCoy & Emiliy Mottram (2010) This report follows a survey in 2009 of 13 local authorities in partnership with the Partners in Literacy programme. It provides local authorities with a snapshot of how to provide a literacy stragedy, It also provides details of the potential barriers in implementing these stragedies. The reasons why some partners do not signpost some families to literacy help is also highlighted.

(2011) Book ownership and its relation to enjoyment, attitudes, behaviours and attainment. [3] Report showing that book ownership is not only key to attainment but is also broadly associated with literacy and education from reading frequency to enjoyment to increased confidence. Christina Clark & Lizzie Poulton (2011). The report was conducted with 17,000 young people aged between 8 and 17.[14] Clark & Lizzie Poulton (2011).

(2011)Public Libraries and Literacy. Christina Clark & Lucy Hawkins (2011). This paper provides information on children's reading habits as outline in the 2009 research Young People's Reading and Writing as outlined above. It explores areas including: Young people's use of their libraries such as numbers and background demographics to ages and differences between the users. The paper also discusses what factors influence young people as to wheater they do or do not use the library, the link between library use and young people's reading and the link between public library use and children's attainment.[15] Christina Clark & Lucy Hawkins (2011).

Programme delivery

The National Literacy Trust runs a number of projects and networks and works with a range of professionals to deliver support for the development of literacy skills. Working with schools, libraries and football clubs, it runs a number of initiatives to motivate and inspire more reluctant readers, as well as a book-gifting programme that targets children, young people and their families in disadvantaged areas.

These programmes include a sport based project which promotes good literacy skills through the medium of sport in this case football [4]. It targets the hardest to reach in the community who have a passion for football but might not have the same for reading.[5] These programmes promote literacy in different ways, one being online literacy tasks designed by literacy professionals and delivered by Premier League stars.There are also other intiatives which are designed to get reluctant readers interested in literacy through the use of inspirational peer influence. The schools recruit boys who then encourage other boys to read, there is a bronze, silver and gold certificate awarded which helps to keep the boys motivated as well as providing a sense of achievement.[6]

Programmes designed to promote early promotion of literacy are also in place at the National Literacy Trust one such providing encouragement for parents to communicate with their babies from birth onwards. Talking an listening to young children helps them to develop good communication skills. This enables them to speak, read, write, listen, learn and socialize more effectively. This helps the chld to develop good communication skills which are essential to leading a fulfilled, happy and prosperous life, it also enables the child to feel valued, building their confidence which in turn leads to a greater bond between parent and child. There are online resources which aim to provide a one stop shop for information, advice and free downloadable resources designed to get you and your child communicating as well as supporting early years professionals. The vision of the National Literacy Trust is that within ten years time they will have facilitated a positive culutural shift so that all children receive a stimulating start in life.[7].

The literacy of young people is paramount in promoting good literacy another initiative promotes encouragement of reading for pleasure among disadvantaged children and young people. This is achieved by involving the children and helping them to develop skills such as choosing books and where to find books when the project is over. Inspirational literacy events are staged in which children, schools and libraries provide a link between reading and fun. As part of the project children are allowed to choose and keep books, which are often the first books the children have ever owned. The projects utilize the expertise of librarians and teachers in order to tailor the programme to the individual needs of the specific group of children. The participating children are also involved in the organisation of the programmes events in order to have as deep an impact on the children as possible. Teachers also benefit from the programme by developing an understanding of texts suitable for hard to reach pupils.[8]

There is a network which works with both secondary and primary schools, special schools and Pupil Referral Units in order to improve literacy skills [9]. This network encourages schools to stage events such as asking a sports star to speak about reading and writing. The network supports educational professionals to raise standards of literacy within their schools. This is achieved by providing literacy resources and schools can apply to use the "Working with the National Literacy Trust" logo. There are also exciting compititions every term focused around a specific area of literacy. Th most up to date one being focused on speaking skills. Included in membership of this network are online audits which help to assess the particular schools literacy along with a pupil profiling tool which aims to profile individual pupils as well as advice on how to get children reading. [10]

A leadership network is also in place which provides consultants, lead teachers, librarians, advanced skills teachers and other leaders in literacy the chance to network, share ideas and best practise. Set up in partnership with Lifeworlds Learning the network aims to promote the sharing of ideas and the support of literacy professionals by each other for each other. Community and collaboration are the key elements to this network. Membership of this network provides: articles and links to news relevant to the literacy sector, articles and commentaries by National Literacy Trust staff, notification of events and courses in the individuals area, reviews of new resources to support leadership in literacy and access to online forums, discussion and the opportunity to network. [11]

A network which provides provision and resources for professionals working with children under five including: childminders, playgroups, Children's Centres, Pre-School and Nurseries is also in place. Membership of this network enables professionals to access resources, case studies and ideas designed to raise the profile of language and literacy. These are released every month along with a practical new resource exclusively for members. The resources are designed by professionals who are working in the field of early years. As above there are also online evaluation tools in order to review the language and literacy provision of individual settings along with advice and strategies on how to improve provision both for settings and individuals. [12]

A new programme has been designed to give young people the skills to succeed in the workplace, a speaking and listening programme it enables young people to develop their communication skills by interaction with business volunteers who pass on the skills they have developed during their working lives. This interaction stimulates thought and discussion around communication and how this will benefit young people in the future. The Business volunteers act as positive role models and are able to utilize their own skills to empower the young people. By doing this the project enables business volunteers to enhance their own professional development. This in turn enables young people to obtain interview skills as well as the ability to communicate effectively in the work place. [13]

Working in partnership with other organisations National Literacy Trust provide projects including one which incorporates changes to the menu of Little Chef. Little Chef These changes aim to promote enjoyment of reading amongst young people while they are travelling, The publisher Puffin is also involved in this initiative as they share the National Literacy Trusts goal of wanting children to have fun while at the same time promoting literacy. Puffin Books The partnership between the three organisations looks to be an exciting and innovative way of encouraging children to read. [14]


The National Literacy Trust supports literacy in schools and the home with a wide range of resources which are available for purchase by schools and professionals.The resources aim to facilitate the learning process and the acquisition of good literacy skills [15]. One popular resource is the Family Literacy Wheel, which is designed to develop Literacy in a fun way while doing everyday tasks such as cooking or cleaning. It is designed in a way which helps to promote your child's development. Research has consistently indicated that support in the home is crucial to the development of good literacy skills. [16].

Other resources promote the importance of reading for pleasure and the impact it can have on literacy development, using a variety of mediums, including sport. The Premier League Reading Stars is a resource designed to encourage recalcitrant readers through football with tasks set by leading football stars. The Young Readers Programme Pack is another resource which helps children and young people acquire the skills they need to become a developed reader. With skills taught such as how to choose a book that is relevant to their interests, to where they can find books once the project is over. This programme is exceptional in recognising local knowledge and expertise and allowing professionals the freedom to meet the specific interests of the students they work with in their school. [17] Ann Brownlee

The Reading Champions Resource was developed from a project previously funded by the DCSF (now DfE) which is especially designed to engage boys with reading through the use of inspirational peer influence. Boys with high profiles among other pupils become Reading Champions and encourage other boys to get involved in reading. Reading Champions become more positive about reading there is an improvement of communication, social and leadership skills and an increase in motivation of other children's interest in reading. The schools reading culture also becomes stronger as a result of the Reading Champions programme, [18].

The Words for Work 2011 Project works closely with teachers and business volunteers in order to improve pupils speaking and listening skills, these skills are crucial for employibility and should be every child's automatic right, [19]. As this a new project evaluation is key to its sustainability and impact, early indications show that 50% of participants improved their speaking and listening skills, while 75% of participants raised their awareness of the importance of these skills. The evaluation report shows that 9 in 10 of the children involved in the project feel they communicate better as a result of participation. This was supported by their teachers along with 8 in 10 of the business volunteers believing that the young people learnt to communicate more effectively.[20] Sally Melvin (2010).

The National Literacy Trust also works with the Premier League, using the motivational power of football to encourage children and families to engage with reading. It also works in partnership with local areas to extend the scope of local support for literacy and ensure this support reaches those families most in need. In practice this means involving a wide range of front-line local authority workers in promoting literacy to families - for example, housing providers, midwives and health visitors.


  1. ^ Needs verification
  2. ^ Needs verification
  3. ^ The Charity Commission for England and Wales
  4. ^ Manifesto for Literacy
  5. ^ 2008 National Year of Reading report
  6. ^ Clark and Hawkins (2010) Young People’s Reading: The importance of the home environment and family support.
  7. ^ Clark and Hawkins (2010) Young People’s Reading: The importance of the home environment and family support.
  8. ^ Dr Suzanne Zeedyk (2008) What’s life in a baby buggy like?: The impact of buggy orientation on parent-infant interaction and infant stress
  9. ^ Christina Clark and George Dugdale (2008) Literacy Changes Lives series
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ 2011 The Importance of Families and the Home Environment
  14. ^
  15. ^

External links

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