From education to employment

Quick Reads: breaking down barriers to reading

Reading is a wonderful thing. For many of us, as children, it is through reading that we get our first glimpse of a wider world, of difference, of beauty, darkness and danger. We read to escape, to discover, to laugh and to connect. Reading can teach us to think and imagine, as well as developing more basic skills and capabilities which are essential in managing our day-to-day lives.

Yet, reading remains, for far too many of us, something that is for other people. One in six adults of working age in the UK has difficulty with reading – a truly appalling statistic. Last year’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) report starkly demonstrated the urgent need to encourage and empower adults to improve their literacy. It said:

While countries cannot change the past, policies to provide high-quality lifelong opportunities for learning can help to ensure that the adults of the future maintain their skills.

The problem is that, for very many people, reading has not been a source of joy and inspiration, it has been a lifelong struggle, associated, often, with feelings of anxiety, shame and humiliation. Little wonder that so many simply do not see reading as being for them. For these people, reading for pleasure can be hugely daunting. It isn’t enough just to create an opportunity for them to be with and learn about books. They need support, encouragement and, perhaps above all, a place to start. That is what the Quick Reads programme is all about.

Since 2006, Quick Reads, an innovative partnership bringing publishers and authors together with a range of partner institutions dedicated to improving literacy and engagement with reading, has produced dozens of high-quality, short and fast-paced books by best-selling authors aimed at people who lack confidence as readers. The work has been supported by NIACE, which, from the scheme’s inception, has led the outreach work for Quick Reads, helping ensure the books reach the right people – those least likely to pick up a book.

An impact evaluation, carried out at the end of last year, demonstrates the overwhelmingly positive impact Quick Reads have on adult learners’ confidence and attitudes to reading and on their literacy skills, making literature accessible to more and more learners, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds associated with low participation in learning. The books are used year-on-year by practitioners in settings as diverse as prisons, libraries, family learning groups and workplaces, turning, as one tutor put it, ‘non-readers into readers’.

The findings of the evaluation show just how effective and useful the books are. Ninety-eight per cent of respondents said that using Quick Reads had been effective in raising learners’ confidence to read; while 96 per cent said that it had improved attitudes to reading. Ninety-five per cent said that it improved literacy skills and 93 per cent said it improved attitudes to learning. Almost nine out of 10 respondents (89 per cent) said that after using Quick Reads for the first time, at least half of their learners go onto read other Quick Reads, while just over three-quarters (76 per cent) said that at least half their learners go on to read other books. More than half said that, after using Quick Reads for the first time, at least half of their learners go on to enrol on other courses.
Improved job prospects, raised aspirations and better communications skills were among the other benefits to learners reported by respondents. More than a third also said that learners were better able to support their children’s learning as a result of reading the books. Quick Reads have become part of learning strategies in prisons and offender institutions and have become an important element of family learning work, while many large employers see Quick Reads as a way of showing their commitment to employees’ skills and wellbeing.

The report is a tremendous endorsement of an approach which, over the past eight years, has made readers – and learners – out of people who had had little interest in books before. But, as PIAAC highlighted last year, the challenges in this area are huge, and there is a very significant job to be done in ensuring these books get into the hands of the people to whom they make a difference. And we need to ensure that there is well-funded adult education provision out there for people to access, in ways and in settings that suit them. As everyone who has discovered a love of reading will know, it is a wonderful thing to plant a seed. But flowers do not grow by themselves.

Carol Taylor is director of development and research at NIACE, which encourages all adults to engage in learning

Related Articles