United Kingdom
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Thousands of children miss out on vital reading books as schools face delivery delays

Thousands of schoolchildren are missing vital reading books because of delivery delays.

Primary schools are still waiting for phonics books for pupils aged between four and eight, which should have arrived for the start of the academic year but might not be available until after half-term. 

Oxford University Press, which publishes the Essential Letters And Sounds reading scheme, said the delays were due to ‘supply chain issues that many companies are experiencing at the moment’. 

Publishers have warned that disruption is hitting book production, storage and delivery, mostly as a result of Covid and Brexit-related bottlenecks.

Thousands of schoolchildren are missing vital reading books because of delivery delays (stock image)

With many books printed in the US and China, port delays are a major issue. 

Felixstowe, the UK’s biggest container port, had to turn away ships from Asia last week because a lack of HGV drivers led to a backlog of containers.

The problem is particularly acute for English primary schools that have introduced new phonics reading schemes this term, under guidance from the Department for Education (DfE), and are waiting for books.

Under Government guidelines published this year, schools were told to adopt one of 14 DfE-validated programmes.

Children are still having phonics lessons, in which letters are sounded out and words are broken down, but the absence of books to support the work and encourage home reading could hamper their development.

Head teachers said last night that the books were a ‘necessity’ and any issues with their supply had to be resolved urgently.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘It would be a concern if there were delays to something as important as reading books. 

Having books pitched at the right level is a crucial part of teaching children to read, particularly in the early stages.’

Children are still having phonics lessons, in which letters are sounded out and words are broken down, but the absence of books to support the work and encourage home reading could hamper their development (stock image)

Oxford University Press said: ‘We’re working hard to support the schools in the meantime.’

Schools have also been urged to stock up on food in case of shortages. 

One of the largest canteen suppliers in the UK, ISS, has written to catering staff advising them to buy frozen and tinned food to ensure children are properly fed over the winter.

The company, which supplies 450 schools, said deliveries were being affected by a shortage of HGV drivers, as well as import delays and a lack of staff.