A six-month literacy project has been launched in Bradford to help combat figures showing nearly a third of children leaving primary school in the city are unable to read and write to expected standards.
The reasons behind the stark statistics are many and complex, from a higher than average number of pupils who speak English as a second language to pockets of deprivation where many families simply cannot afford to buy books.
However, with poor literacy achievements directly equated to poor life chances and even reduced life expectancy, the Bradford Stories Festival is hoping to help bridge the gap between school and home.
Imran Hafeez, the manager of the city’s Literacy Hub, said: “If we allow children to leave education still struggling to read and write the danger is that they will slip through society’s net.
“Most of us take reading and writing for granted, but if, for whatever, reason you miss out on those basic skills just coping with everyday life can be incredibly difficult.
“Everyone deserves a decent start in life and through the Bradford Stories Festival we are hoping to inspire youngsters to read and write by showing them their own experiences – and those of their families – are important.
“This is a really diverse city and we want to tap into that to show these children that everyone has a story to tell.”
Pupils from a number of schools attended the launch event, which featured what is known as a ‘living library’. Instead of taking out a book, they could ‘take out’ an actual person with Ambreen Sadiq, one of the first female Asian Muslim boxers, and the Bishop of Bradford, Dr Toby Howarth, among those sharing their lives and times.
Over the next six months, the festival will work with 12 schools in the city, providing pupils with creative experiences to advance their literacy skills and build their sense of community. This work will culminate next spring in an exhibition of work by all the participating schools.
The project is part of the wider Bradford Stories project, a decade-long initiative run by the National Literacy Trust which was set up to give children and young people in the city the literacy skills they need to succeed.
Research shows that between its launch in 2014 and 2018, the reading enjoyment levels of disadvantaged children in Bradford rose from 55 per cent to 74 per cent.
Not only that, but the reading enjoyment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better off peers has all but disappeared - from 7.9 to 0.6 per cent - while the national gap has widened substantially - from 2.5 to six per cent.
Mr Hafeez said: “The umbrella project is now at its midway point and this six-month festival feels like a good time to both celebrate and consolidate what we have achieved so far.
“Reversing statistics like the ones we have in Bradford isn’t something that can happen overnight, but through continued support of schools and families within our community we are beginning to make a real difference.”
The festival is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as part of its work to trial innovative approaches to building more integrated communities.