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Why business can’t afford Covid to have the last word on child literacy

As offices get back their buzz, and face-to-face client meetings and corporate events return to full swing, it’s tempting to feel that we have emerged – more resilient, more flexible – into a post-pandemic world. Yet there are parts of UK society where Covid continues to have a long tail – not least in our school system.

By Alan Somerville – 09 May 2023

Some 140,000 children – recently making headlines as ‘ghost-children’ – have almost entirely disappeared from education since schools returned after the pandemic. At the same time, literacy rates in primary school age children remain a concern. In 2022, 1 in 4 children left primary school unable to read to the government’s expected standard by age 11*.

Sadly, the pandemic has had the most detrimental impact on learning for those who were already disadvantaged. Children who couldn’t access laptops or other electronic devices in lockdown; children with no internet connection or those with few books at home were disproportionately affected by learning loss during school closures. 

Why business needs to read between the lines

So why should this matter to business? In the world of real estate investing and asset management, we are used to taking the long view. This is precisely the view we need to take on child literacy. Poor child literacy is a national crisis; it affects us all.

Children who enter secondary school as confident readers can access the entire school curriculum. They are empowered to thrive. Conversely, poor literacy can have lifelong – even cross-generational – negative consequences.

If we fail to address the 25% falling behind, we de-skill the future workforce. This has wide implications for both business – including reduced productivity, lost markets, and competition for labour – and the wider economy.

In 2018, the World Literacy Foundation estimated that illiteracy cost the UK economy around £80 billion due to costs associated with welfare, unemployment, and social programmes, as well as reduced government tax revenue and productivity.

Poor literacy is also linked to many social problems, including unemployment, poor mental and physical health, and criminality. Nearly two thirds (62%) of people entering prisons have the literacy skills expected of an 11-year-old**.

If we fail to address this issue, we will build a less cohesive society. We will allow lockdown to lock in inter-generational poverty.

Business doesn’t operate as somehow separate from society – these issues affect us all. Inside the workplace, and out.

What is Tritax Big Box doing to help?

Since 2019, Tritax Big Box has supported Schoolreaders and its network of dedicated, inspirational volunteers. Founded in 2013, the charity matches volunteers with local primary schools to provide free, weekly one-to-one reading support – targeting those pupils most desperately in need. Now in its tenth year, its work has never been more vital.

Big Box’s donations so far have enabled more than 1,000 school children to receive one-to-one sessions, delivered by over 100 volunteers. We recently renewed and expanded our partnership – signing another three-year agreement that will support a further 1,800 children, with sessions delivered by around 180 volunteers – focusing on those children most in need, in counties where our assets are located.

Regular time with a Schoolreaders volunteer can make a huge difference to a child’s literacy, in terms of fluency, comprehension, and confidence. Just as important, this time also helps foster a love of reading and builds children’s social skills by creating access to additional positive adult role models. It connects people of all ages and helps builds community spirit –connecting people across ages and social groups. For the most vulnerable, it can help break cycles of family illiteracy.

Why not join us?

Currently around 16,250 children are receiving support sessions each week with a Schoolreaders volunteer – and the charity has ambitious growth plans.

Its goal is to reach 18,000 children each week by August 2023; with ambitious growth planned into 2024, 2025 and beyond. To directly address the impacts of Covid, it will target schools in the bottom 20% of areas of deprivation and/or schools with more than 25% of their children on Free School Meals.

Solely financed by fundraised income, Schoolreaders would welcome more corporate partners to help support their growth plans.

Since Tritax Big Box became its first corporate partner, Schoolreaders has grown its support network but is keen to expand it further to help fund recruitment and training for a larger volunteer network and to grow its operations.

Or, if you are keen to help more informally, you can encourage your teams to volunteer as school readers – and support them to do so.

We know from Schoolreaders volunteers that the benefits of volunteering go both ways. Volunteers gain so much from knowing they’ve made a difference to a child’s day and, even better, their future.

The impact on children – beyond the numbers, in their own words

Schoolreaders’ model is simple, cost-effective, and scalable. Moreover, its impact is proven.

Each year, Schoolreaders partners with the Institute for Research in Education at the University of Bedford to measure its impact and social value. 2022 results show that 87% of children improved their reading age after just one term of support from a Schoolreaders volunteer. Of the children who were supported over three terms, 100% increased their reading age (51% by 3-6+ months, 49% by 1-3 months) as a direct result of the Schoolreaders programme. 

But numbers don’t always tell the whole story – and who better to tell it than a young reader themselves? Here you can listen to what 9-year-old Connie-May has to say about the impact of Schoolreaders in her own words.


*Key stage 2 attainment: National headlines, Academic Year 2021/22 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (


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