15% households with school aged children without internet access       39% of Aucklanders born overseas       82% of 18 year olds have NCEA Level 2       22% unemployment for 15-24 year olds       94.6% attend pre-school       1 in 4 children in poverty       79% pass NCEA Literacy in Yr 11       76% at or above national reading standards starting high school

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What's Our Literacy Challenge?

Auckland Challenge?

  • 410,000 adults with low literacy; about 40% of our adult population. Many of these adults are parents who want to support their children's learning, but lack the skills and confidence to do so.
  • 10,250 families where parents have no qualifications (often a proxy for low literacy)
  • 2,491 Auckland  school leavers (12%) left school without qualifications in 2012
  • It’s intergenerational.
    • 57% of adults with very low literacy and numeracy had a mother with less than 3 years secondary schooling (Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 2006)
    • 16% of mothers and 38% of fathers seldom or never read to their children (from the Growing Up in New Zealand study)
    • 87% of young people at moderate risk of not passing NCEA level 2 have parents with no qualifications (the Treasury, Characteristics of Children at Risk, 2015
  • A growing pool of new migrants needing English language skills adds to the complexity of the literacy landscape in Auckland.


How towns and cities can collaborate to raise literacy – Alison Sutton
Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship Report, 2015
Click here to view the WCMT report

If you are interested in how cities can take a strategic approach to improving literacy, read Alison Sutton’s report from her Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2015. Alison visited 11 organisations in nine cities in England and the USA, to find out how organisations can collaborate to make a difference.

- Martin Luther King

















The key messages:

  • The enduring cycle of parents with low adult literacy and children with weak early oral language and poor school performance will only be broken by innovative action. 
  • Raising literacy is a poverty reduction strategy. Tackling the challenge takes more than schools.
    Social services, employer groups, unions and philanthropy were at the table with cross-sector education groups to work on community literacy action. 
  • Health has the potential to be a major driver for improving literacy.
    A lack of literacy has a major impact on health, social inclusion and life outcomes generally. Public health funded both initiatives to grow healthy children ready to learn and social inclusion strategies.
  • Early oral language and school readiness are key factors in education success.
    Early literacy success matters much earlier now than it used to because the literacy bar is moving up and children are expected to make more progress earlier at school.
  • Cross-sector collaborations take time to establish, skill and energy to sustain
  • Having meaningful data is very important.
    The collective impact projects in the USA had a major focus on data, more so than the UK initiative. Getting meaningful data is only the first step. Using it and helping others make use of it is equally important. A meaningful data system is costly to establish.
  • We need to pay more attention to parents and families and thinking intergenerationally.
    Most places were not thinking about intergenerational learning. Initiatives were child-focused and parents were upskilled only to help their children - the economic benefit of upskilling adults at the same time has not been widely recognised.
  • There is no one magic bullet. Starting with what we have is at least as important as creating new programmes.
    We need to showcase local initiatives and seek replication and increased scale in ways that suit individual communities.

New Zealand has a long and proud history of literacy achievement. Even so, many people don’t get the literacy skills they need to thrive socially or to find  and retain jobs in this intensly competitive global market.

Literacy grows out of oral language

We communicate who we are through oral language - through listening and speaking. People who are confident listeners and speakers are much more likely to succeed through life. People who are not confident communicators often struggle with learning, reading, subsequent employment and life success.

Early oral language is an important predicator of future thinking and problem solving skills and school performance. The size of a child’s spoken vocabulary matters because it impacts on the ease and speed with which a child learns to read; if they have never heard a word, or never used it, it’s much harder for a new reader to read and understand it.

Most brain and early language development occurs in the first 1,000 days of life, so early experiences really matter.

Early literacy challenges have long term impacts

Children who start school healthy, confident and ready to learn with good oral communication skills (in English or in a home language) are likely to do well. 

But the oral language gap experienced by some children puts them at an immediate disadvantage. Those children start school having heard 3,000 fewer spoken words than their middle class counterparts.   Over those important first years, a child from a wealthier family may hear 30 million more words in their first four years than one from a poorer family.  The lack of words makes learning to read harder.

Literacy underpins success at school

Children who struggle to learn to read often don’t catch up. 24% of Auckland’s children are below reading standard at the end of primary school . This means they are late in transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn, something expected to happen around the age of eight.

Children leaving primary school need to be  on or about Curriculum level 4 to be ‘secondary school ready’. Starpath data shows 70 % of Pasifika Year 8 students and 56% of Māori Year 8 students were at or below AsTTLE reading Curriculum level 3 at the start of Year 9.The data for listening comprehension was lower than reading data.

A child struggling with literacy at the start of high school is also highly likely to struggle at 16 and is at high risk of early drop out from school with no qualifications. Insufficient literacy and numeracy is one of the reasons for disengagement, as well as a result of it.

About 2,400 young people disengage early or leave school without qualifications in Auckland each year. Maori and Pasifika children, particularly boys, are most at risk. More than 70% of New Zealand’s Pasifika students and around 40% of Maori students live in Auckland so we need to do better in Auckland in order to shift the national picture for them. 

Low literacy is intergenerational

There are over 410,000 adults in Auckland with low literacy – about 40% of our adult population . Many of these adults are parents who want to support their children’s learning, but lack the skills and confidence to do so.

The children of low literate parents are more at risk of poor educational. In 2013 there were 16,000 Auckland families with school-aged children headed by parents with no qualifications, a proxy for low literacy - so the scale of this intergenerational cycle is significant . The majority of children at risk of not passing NCEA Level 2 have parents with qualifications below NCEA Level 1.

A growing pool of new migrants needing English language skills adds to the complexity of the literacy landscape in Auckland.

A key opportunity for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty is to raise the skills and confidence of parents (particularly mothers) to both support their children’s learning while also  growing their own literacy and employability.

Literacy Landscape

Click here to view presentation on literacy landscape