The Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust has hailed the decision of Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford to launch a book club, and explained how it will help to improve social mobility for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Rashford is partnering with Macmillan Children's Books (MCB) to provide children from all socio-economic backgrounds the opportunity to read and have access to books.
And the Trust’s CEO, Jonathan Douglas CBE, says Rashford’s star quality will have a huge impact on “unlocking children’s potential”.
Jonathan explained to ConnectSport's Emily Salley that ‘book poverty’ is a serious issue in the UK.
“385,000 children don't own a single book and that's tragic,” he said. “Book ownership is fundamental to children acquiring the reading habit and we know that children's ability to read and their ownership and access to books go hand in hand.”
A 2018 report by the NLT showed the importance of literacy by highlighting the staggering gap in life expectancy between children from communities with the highest and lowest vulnerabilities to literacy problems.
It revealed that a boy who grows up in a ward with one of the highest vulnerabilities to literacy problems in the UK has a life expectancy of 26.1 years less than someone growing up in an area with one of the lowest vulnerabilities to literacy problems.
“Literacy sits at the heart of social mobility and social justice, and literacy is the key to unlocking children’s potential,” Jonathan explained.
“Marcus is doing two things. First of all, he's talking about taking direct actions, he is talking about making sure children have got their hands on books, and that's massively important.
“He’s also talking about behaviour change so he is encouraging parents to read with their children and change their behaviours around books and reading.”
“These two things - behaviour and access - are the things which are going to make a difference.”
Rashford’s new campaign is particularly fitting as lockdown measures have forced public and school libraries to close, impacting on children who rely on borrowing books more than those who can afford to buy new books.
The NLT also know how influential sport and athletes can be when it comes to increasing literacy rates and getting children interested in reading, and have created specific programmes such as ‘Reading Stars’ in association with the Premier League, to combine sport with literacy.
“We know that a lot of young people who are passionate about sports are not passionate about reading,” said Jonathan.
“However, if they hear Marcus Rashford talk about reading, they see reading as an essential skill to being a successful sportsman.
“All of a sudden they change their perspective and it’s not just an activity for geeks.”
An evaluation of the Premier League Reading Stars programme showed three out of four pupils making at least six months’ progress in reading in just 10 weeks.
Jonathan added: “By talking about football rather than simply talking about books, it becomes exciting and interesting to young people, and has much more of an effect on them.
“If young people know that the kind of people they admire and respect are readers, then they're more likely to take reading seriously as an activity themselves.”
Rashford is becoming one of the UK’s most respected and admired sportspeople for both children and adults.
The 23-year-old has already captured the attention of the public through his campaigning for free school meals and his new project to improve literacy amongst children shows he is an athlete who cares.
Rashford has explained how reading has offered him escapism and that he wants all children to have this opportunity.
“I just wish I was offered the opportunity to really engage with reading more as a child, but books were never a thing we could budget for as a family when we needed to put food on the table,” he said.
“My books are, and always will be, for every child, even if I have to deliver them myself. We will reach them.”
Pic credit: BBC and FareShare UK.