Turn On The Subtitles Schools Campaign Launch

Posted by iChild, March 03, 2021 10:42 AM

By Oli Barrett and Henry Warren


Head1-first the problem

- Here’s a scarily big problem: COVID-19 has meant that millions of children have actually gone backwards when it comes to their literacy (World Literacy Foundation).

- Even before COVID, 28% of children left school with an insufficient level of literacy (National Literacy Trust). That number rises to 45% for the poorest families.

- If a child leaves school with a low level of literacy, they are 3 x more likely to be incarcerated. They are 3 x more likely to be hospitalised and they are 3 x more likely to die young (National Literacy Trust).

- If only there was a magic button that we could push to change that…

Now it gets exciting

- Recent studies have shown that when children watch TV with subtitles on, it dramatically improves their literacy.

- In fact, it can double the chances of children becoming proficient readers, and it’s completely free! (Same Language Subtitling of Bollywood Film Songs on TV: Effects on Literacy Brij Kothari)

- The average child watches 11.8 hours a week of TV (arguably more now due to COVID).

- Just turn the subtitles on and that’s the equivalent of reading the same number of words that are in: all of the Harry Potter books, all of the Earthsea Books, all of His Dark Materials, all of the Narnia saga and all of The Lord of the Rings — in a year, that’s just the average child watching an average amount of TV.

Heres what we're doing

- A group of like-minded educationalists, entrepreneurs and celebrities have come together to tell parents one simple message: “Turn On The Subtitles”.

- We’re asking broadcasters and governments to help too — and to their credit they’re doing it.

- Within a matter of months Turn On The Subtitles has gone from a scribble on a napkin (in Leon if you must know) to becoming the world’s largest literacy project.

- On March 1st of this year, we’re going to be contacting every school in the UK about this.

- We’d love your help in getting this message out directly to every parent too.

We’re not a charity, we’re not a company, we’re not a PR agency (which is why we have no idea how to craft a proper press release, can you tell?) [:) from iChild] we’re just a bunch of like-minded people that think this idea is so cool and transformative it just has to be embraced. If you can help us, we promise to buy you cake when we next see you.

Research my bg

- On March 1st, GCSEPod and NESTA are jointly publishing research into subtitling involving 450k children in the UK. Here’s a deck summarising this particular study.

- It was the latest in a string of studies from multiple universities on the topic of adding subtitles to children’s TV to improve literacy. We have a summary of all this research that you can read here.

- We have lots of academics here who are (overly) keen to answer any questions you may have on the topic. Just email us with any questions [email protected].

The world and his dog

- On March 1st, a wide range of companies, charities and celebrities will all be communicating to schools and parents the importance of turning on the subtitles when it comes to reading.

- Twinkl, GCSEPod, Pearson and The National Literacy Trust will be writing to all of their schools and parents — we also want a special shout out to these guys as they have been amazing supporters along with Annington Homes, without whom this idea would have just stayed on a napkin.

- Ambition, The School Governance Association, NAACE, Parentkind, BESA, the BBC and others will all be contacting schools and/or parents to convey this message.

Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, Rachel Riley, Sandi Toksvig, Phillip Schofield, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Sally Hawkins will all be tweeting about it or doing interviews or videos to help spread the word.

Here’s a couple of examples of the videos we sent out on the day:

Stephen Fry


Who we are

TV Team

I’m Oli Barrett MBE (the one with hair) and I’m Henry Warren (the one without). This isn’t our day job. We’re just two friends who both have young kids and thought this needed to happen. You can read more about us here

Nina Hale joined us a year ago and is frankly the real brains behind all of this. We tend to just get in her way if we’re honest.

Where we are so far in our Turn On The Subtitles journey:

We're currently helping 322 million children to read (so far).

It's now been passed into law in India (50% of content to have subtitles on by 2025) — huge hat tip to our amazing sister organisation Planet Read on this.

  • The British Prime Minister has now backed this with a statement in the Commons.
    - It's been raised in the Lords and a growing number of Lords and MPs across all parties are now backing this (including the Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green MP).
    - Netflix have been running a global pilot since late last year.
    - Amazon Prime have told us they are planning to pilot this.
    - YouTube Kids have already launched several literacy channels, the largest of which run by Moonbug is getting 1m views a day.
    - The BBC are helping us raise the profile of the campaign and are investigating it for iPlayer.
    - Sky has something very, very exciting to announce — but you’ll have to wait for that one, sorry, we promised not to steal their thunder.


Our image library is here, please feel free to use whatever you like. Oh, and if you want to use any of the copy above as a quote to help us spread the word, you can attribute it to Henry.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, PMQs 9.12.2020
"I think that the campaign is excellent… all the departments that have a stake in this will be working with her [Julie Marson MP] to see what we can do.”

Former US President, Bill Clinton
“Same Language Subtitling doubles the number of functional readers among primary school children. A small thing that has a staggering impact on people’s lives.”

Prof. Brij Kothari
"If you want to teach a nation to read better: just turn on the subtitles."

Jonathan Douglas, Director, National Literacy Trust
"The international evidence base suggesting that children respond well to having subtitles on when they’re watching television is compelling. We would absolutely support automatic same-language subtitling on children’s TV programmes.”

Sandi Toksvig
"I love the Turn On The Subtitles campaign. It's stunningly simple, free and yet so powerful… We're reaching out to all parents and schools to spread this simple message and help our nation's children to improve their literacy."

Rachel Riley
"Do it right now. Turn on the subtitles!"

Kate Green MP, Shadow Education Secretary
“This imaginative and important initiative can make a real difference to children’s literacy, and it’s so exciting to see celebrities and broadcasters coming together to deliver this change. I’m delighted to give it my support.”

Lord Foster of Bath, Lib-Dem Peer
"Once in a blue moon an idea comes along that just blows you away with its sheer simple brilliance. If ever there was a no-brainer, Turn On The Subtitles is it."

Stephen Fry
“Top scientists have proven that turning on subtitles of TV programmes can double the chances of a child becoming good at reading.”

Sanjeev Bhaskar
“Turn on the subtitles and let the magic begin!”

Sir Lenny Henry
“Just turn on the subtitles. Extraordinary. Research has shown they can double the chances of a child becoming good at reading.”

Oli Barrett MBE, Co-founder of Turn On the Subtitles
"Some ideas are so powerful that something must be done about them. Subtitles improving literacy is one of those ideas. This campaign takes an incredibly simple insight and uses it to improve people's lives. We are incredibly grateful for the support of the broadcasters and tech companies who are now taking this seriously, and to the many high profile names who are helping us to spread the word."

Henry Warren, Co-founder of Turn On The Subtitles Campaign
“I co-founded TOTS with Oli because I have 3 kids under the age of 12 and it really resonated with me. Lockdown has meant that, despite my best efforts, they are watching way more TV than they should. TOTS is one of those ‘no brainer’ ideas that can really help us as parents. I like to think of it a bit like sneaking vegetables into dinner, the children don’t notice, but you know you’re doing them the world of good.”

Helen Newies, Operations Director, GCSEPod
“At GCSEPod our whole operating model is about giving simple tools for deep learning and what could be simpler than turning on the subtitles. We were delighted to team up with TOTS to tap into the potential of such a brilliantly easy premise, that is a gamechanger for children and young adults.”

James Hopkins, CEO of Annington
“Henry and Oli came to us with an idea so big, so simple and so obvious, it made us wonder why no one had done it before. We couldn’t not support such a fantastic campaign that helps double literacy at the click of a button. Annington cares deeply about the families we support. With TOTS and multiple other initiatives we are involved in, we are doing what we can to improve the lives of families across the UK.”

Jonathan Seaton, CEO & Co-Founder of Twinkl
“We’re proud to be backing the Turn On The Subtitles Campaign. At Twinkl we’re passionate about literacy and enhancing the learning experiences of children and young people. This is something simple that could make such a huge difference and we just need to make sure we share the message. We're so pleased our team can play a role in getting this message out to the schools, parents and carers we work with."

Julie Marson MP
“I love the Turn On The Subtitles Campaign. It’s wonderful to be able to support such a powerful idea, especially when it comes from a constituent.”

Sarah Viccars, Teacher, Epping St John’s School
"Children's literacy is vital to their life chances. Turning on the Subtitles in school and at home to improve reading is such a beautifully simple and powerful intervention — and it's free!"

Ben Jeffrey, Headteacher, Westley Middle School
"We are really excited to be involved in this project. Reading is such an important part of any childhood and to be part of the Turn On The Subtitles campaign is very exciting. Knowing that something as simple as turning on the subtitles can make such a big difference to children's literacy levels is really quite staggering and is such a simple thing for all our families to do."

Elizabeth Toplis, Teacher, Westley Middle School
“After so much lost learning, this is proving to be such a boost for our children’s progress across all subjects. We know that reading is at the heart of everything so this has a disproportionate impact. We’d encourage all schools to get their parents involved.”

Katie Tingley, Teacher, The Crestwood School
“The idea is just so simple, this has to be the most impactful 10 seconds you’ll ever spend as a parent.”

Adam Twycross, parent
“It’s wonderful to know that such a simple change can have such a dramatic impact… and to know that our daughter’s literacy is being given a boost even when it’s TV time!”

Marsha Robinson, parent
“As a parent I wish that my children wanted to spend all their time reading.... but actually they love television! By turning on the subtitles I can assuage my guilt slightly as I know it is improving their reading without them even noticing. Both of them are good at reading and I am convinced having subtitles on has contributed to that.”

Marion McGillivray, parent
“By turning on the subtitles, my children are reading without even knowing it. With extra screen time — let’s be honest, it’s pretty much unavoidable at the moment — it’s great to know I can benefit their literacy through something so simple and free.”

By Oli Barrett and Henry Warren
Founders of: Turn On the SubTitles


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