Reading Ahead with The Reading Agency

Reading Ahead  is the new name for the Six Book Challenge which, since 2008, has inspired less confident readers to develop an enjoyment of reading at the same time as improving their literacy skills. More than 150,000 people aged 16 and above have registered for the programme to date through public libraries, adult learning, colleges, prisons and workplaces. Reading Ahead will also support young people working towards Grade C English GCSE, who are now required to stay in education and training until the age of 18. It will also motivate learners of all ages on courses ranging from supported learning and ESOL to functional skills and childcare.

Reading Ahead will continue to challenge participants to pick six reads of their choice and record, rate and review them in order to get a certificate. Reading diaries, certificates and publicity material with a colourful design and a new call to action – “Choose six reads. Challenge yourself to get Reading Ahead.”

“Reading Ahead will encourage even more people to get into reading,” says Genevieve Clarke, The Reading Agency’s adult literacy specialist. “The new name reflects the fact that people can take part with other types of reading such as poems, short articles or websites if books feel too daunting. We want it to be a personal challenge whether they’re just starting out or broadening their reading horizons.”

The Reading Agency is a leading independent charity whose pioneering work brings the joy of reading to the widest possible audiences across the UK, in partnership with the public library service. The charity’s mission is to create and deliver innovative reading opportunities that inspire more people to read more, encourage them to share their enjoyment of reading with others and celebrate the difference that reading makes to all our lives. The Reading Agency is funded by the Arts Council.

Give a Book is delighted to give mini-dictionaries, thanks to Harper Collins, to every prisoner who completes the Reading Ahead challenge. This year alone, we have given out over 5,000. The dictionaries are the single biggest incentive for prisoners to take up the challenge of reading ahead. We received this message from a prisoner in a YOI:  ‘I loved it. I’d never properly looked at a dictionary before. I opened it and just got absorbed’. And at a recent event at another prison to hand out over 80 dictionaries Erwin James  said  “I love the dictionaries. I remember how precious they were in prison. To get your own dictionary is fantastic.”

The Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge was cited as an example of a multifaceted approach to adult learning in a report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee published in September 2014 calling for a more flexible, better funded and joined-up way of tackling what it describes as the ‘alarmingly low levels of adult literacy and numeracy in England’.

There’s masses of evidence for the positive effects of reading for pleasure. A recent OECD report (2013) shows that unemployed adults are twice as likely to have weak literacy skills as those in full-time employment. Adults with lower levels of literacy are also more likely than those with better literacy skills to experience poor health and to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and are less likely to participate in volunteer activities.

People who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile. 76% of adults say that reading improves their life, and the same number says it helps to make them feel good. (Gleed (2014) Booktrust Reading Habits Survey 2013 p.2)

The frequency of reading for pleasure at 42 is linked to vocabulary skills; those who read every day at 42 have an advantage of 4 percentage points in their vocabulary over those who do not read as frequently said a recent report by Sullivan and Brown (2014).

Reading Ahead poster