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The Value of Inclusive Reading Communities

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Debbie Hicks MBE profile pic

Debbie Hicks MBE

Creative Director, The Reading Agency

Debbie Hicks is a senior leader and policy and strategy expert with 30 years experience in the cultural sector

Creative Director at The Reading Agency, Debbie Hicks writes exclusively for Curia on the value of inclusive reading and the practices at The Reading Agency

The proven power of reading

There can be no doubt about the proven power of reading. It is more important for a child’s cognitive development than a parent’s education and a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background. It is also a fundamental building block of health and happiness and really can connect children socially and emotionally with their peers, their families and their communities.

But reading isn’t easy for everyone and often those children who need its benefits the most find it the most difficult to access and enjoy. The Reading Agency is a national charity committed to using the proven power of reading to tackle life’s big challenges: helping to build skills and learning, support health and wellbeing and connect individuals and communities. We’re also committed to ensuring the benefits of reading are for everyone through our work to build inclusive reading communities accessible to all, including those who find reading difficult or who need targeted support.

Evidence-based insights

Around 1 in 5 children will struggle to read and write by the age of 11 – while estimates indicate that up to 80% of these children are likely to be Dyslexic, not all will be diagnosed particularly if they are from lower-income backgrounds. Studies have shown that as many as 20% of children with Dyslexia also experience anxiety or depression.

Our evidence shows that community-based, family-focused reading interventions delivered through public libraries can complement work in educational settings and make a significant contribution to improving a broad range of outcomes for children with Dyslexia.

This is why we work hard with public libraries to deliver engaging reading that builds understanding and awareness, encourages reading confidence and language development and, most importantly of all, is a source of fun and enjoyment. 

Work done at The Reading Agency

Our Reading Well for Children and Teens booklists, put together by children with lived experience and health professionals, are designed to build understanding of neurodiversity, promote mental health and combat stigma through accessible health information, personal stories and fiction. They include brilliant books by brilliant authors available for free in public libraries in a range of formats and genres to support access for all. Some books are specifically written with Dyslexic readers in mind and the collections as a whole are endorsed by the British Dyslexia Association.

The Summer Reading Challenge is the biggest out-of-school reading for pleasure programme in the UK, providing free and fun summer reading activity in public libraries. Materials are accessible and inclusive and the supporting book collection always aims to include Dyslexia-friendly titles and books accessible to children with Specific Learning Difference. And kids love it – all 700,000 of them! As one mother of a daughter with Dyslexia shared last year: “The Reading Challenge has been so amazing and helped so much to push her reading. […] She is more confident in class […] It shows reading really does help.” This year’s Challenge will be coming to libraries again this summer – look out for the character with Dyslexia providing a positive role model to engage children with reading.

Neurodiversity Crowd 2

The secret of success

So what do we feel are the secrets of success to building inclusive reading communities that empower and engage all children? Firstly, understanding need through targeted co-production work with children and families is fundamental to the delivery of interventions that are both authentic and effective. Book selection that provides range and choice in content and format is also key. Interest pathways are an important way into reading – just because a child has Dyslexia, it doesn’t mean they only want to read one type of book in one type of format. Reading apps and e-readers help make content accessible; picture and graphic content can also be helpful and audiobooks are a gateway into stories, helping children to actively listen and learn new words, escape into new worlds and try out new ideas and perspectives

But absolutely nothing beats being read to or sharing reading with others in families, with friends or in reading groups. All the evidence shows that books are made for sharing whatever our age. Reading together in families, libraries and classrooms builds confidence and engagement, builds empathy and understanding, develops vocabulary and language and fosters social connectivity. It is also great fun!

We want everyone to enjoy the benefits of reading. Get in touch to find at more about our work at info@readingagency.org.uk

Curia’s Dyslexia Commission Report

Curia’s Dyslexia Commission will be launching its Annual Report in the weeks to come. Entailing insights from experts ranging from The Department of Education, The British Dyslexia Association, Members of Parliament, and independent headteachers and SENCo practitioners, the report disucsses the following 4 areas.

  1. Reducing Inequalities
  2. Coordination of Care
  3. SEND Review and Schools Bill
  4. Working Age Adults

You can find videos to all inquiry sessions on Chamber UK’S Youtube Channel.

Dyslexia Commission 2nd Inquiry Session with contributions from Debbie Hicks MBE

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