How COVID-19 is impacting the literacy of disadvantaged children and why lost words means lost futures

Posted by iChild, September 30, 2020 9:39 AM

By Jonathan Douglas, Chief Executive at the National Literacy Trust

Our mission at the National Literacy Trust is to give disadvantaged children the literacy skills they need to succeed in school, work and life. We, along with numerous charities, education organisations, schools and projects have worked hard for decades to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their better off peers, which has seen children from our poorest communities not afforded the same opportunities to flourish as their better off peers.

Lost Words Lost Futures2

As a result of COVID-19, schools were closed for months to the majority of children and teachers were only able to provide limited support to pupils at home during this time. This significant disruption to children’s education is expected to reverse all progress made to close the poverty attainment gap over the past decade, with further research suggesting that the learning loss for disadvantaged children and young people could be the equivalent to one whole year of schooling.

While schools remained open for vulnerable children and the children of keyworkers during lockdown, only 5% of the most at risk children were attending. This meant that 8 million children were learning from home during this time – but not with the same access to key resources, such as books and the internet. We know that 1 in 11 disadvantaged children don’t have books of their own at home and further research showed that 700,000 disadvantaged children did not have access to the technology or connectivity they needed to effectively learn from home during lockdown.


The reality is, COVID-19 is set to have a disastrous impact on the literacy of many of the 4.6 million children living in poverty in the UK. These children already start school with vocabularies up to 19 months behind their peers and, as a result, are five times more likely to fail to meet the expected standards in English at age 11, four times more likely to struggle to read as adults, twice as likely to be unemployed aged 34 and three times more likely to have mental health problems as adults. With the literacy attainment gap expected to widen even further as a result of COVID-19, these children could be held back for the rest of their lives, so providing them with the extra support they need to catch up with their peers today will be crucial for their futures.

Our work is now more vital than ever. Without our support, the nation’s poorest children will fall even further behind in their education and their emotional wellbeing will suffer.

To support families in the event of local lockdowns, we have launched our Words for Life  website, which provides parents with simple, fun and educational tips, activities and resources to support their children’s literacy and learning at home. Words for Life brings together all of our existing digital support for parents in one place, including our hugely popular Family Zone which supported more than 400,000 families with home learning resources during lockdown.

We have also adapted our broad range of school programmes and training to help teachers continue to support the literacy of pupils who need it most and have been busy galvanising local partnerships and frontline services across 14 communities facing some of the country’s greatest literacy challenges – our Literacy Hubs – to provide children and families with essential digital resources, physical books and literacy support.


We know that COVID-19 is going to have a long-lasting impact on society. The disruption to children’s literacy learning and education is a major risk factor that we can play a significant role in mitigating.

As a charity that exists to change the lives of disadvantaged children and young people through literacy, there's never been a more important time for our work. The impact of COVID-19 shouldn't last a lifetime.

So how can you help? We urgently need funding to power our work and provide books and vital literacy resources for disadvantaged children across the UK now that they have returned to school.

Donate here to our Lost Words, Lost Futures fundraiser to help us make sure no child is left behind.

  • £10 could gift a book to a child, who has never owned one before
  • £20 could support a young person in secondary school to attend a literacy skills workshop that will help them get a job when they leave school
  • £50 could equip a family from a deprived community with the skills and support they need to help develop their children’s reading

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To find out more, visit Lost words, lost futures appeal.

By Jonathan Douglas, Chief Executive at the National Literacy Trust


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