Country Profile: United Kingdom Of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


64,097,085 (2013, World Bank)

Official language


Total expenditure on education as % of GNP

5.5 (2010)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)
  • Total: 100%
  • Male: 100%
  • Female: 100%
Primary School Net Enrolment/Attendance

100% (2005 - 2010)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2005–2010)
  • Total: 99%
  • Male: 99%
  • Female: 99%

Programme Overview

Programme TitleBookstart Educational Programme
Implementing OrganizationBooktrust
Language of InstructionEnglish
FundingThe Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland , Local Authorities and sponsorship from various private stakeholders such as book publishers and book sellers
Date of Inception1992 –

Context and Background

As a result of the systematic institutionalisation of an environment conducive for sustainable educational development in the country over many decades (e.g. through increased public spending on education, extensive teacher training and retention programmes etc), the United Kingdom (UK) now has one of the most developed and advanced educational systems in the world. The government is currently investing about 5,5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into the educational sector and is thus able to fulfil one of its primary statutory obligations of providing free and compulsory education to all children aged between 5 and 16 years. Consequently, the UK’s educational system has been expanding rapidly at all levels over the years as manifested by the high net enrolment or attendance rates at pre-primary (81%), primary (100%) and secondary (100%) school levels as well as the near universal youth and adult literacy rates (see above).

However, while governmental support for educational development in the UK has generally been increasing in recent years, support for pre-primary or early childhood education (ECE) continues to lag behind other sectors. Indeed, it has been observed that while the country has achieved universal enrolment rates at primary and secondary school levels, only about 81% of children aged 5 years and below are currently enrolled in pre-primary schools (compared to 100% in other European countries such as the Netherlands, France and Germany). There are numerous challenges which impede the provision and expansion of ECE in the UK. These include: the reductions in State childcare support and the fact that “pre-primary school places are only free for four-year olds [while] funding for three-year olds is at the discretion of local education authorities (LEAs), which are the responsible bodies for providing state education to pupils in their areas.” These challenges have, in turn, created national inequalities with regards to access to ECE, with children living in poor municipalities and from poor and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds (such as migrant families) having limited access to quality pre-school education. Hence, in an effort to address these fundamental challenges and create quality ECE opportunities for all children as well as to empower parents and caregivers to be proactive and effective educators, Booktrust UK – an independent educational NGO which was founded in 1921 – initiated the Bookstart Educational Programme (BEP) in 1992.

The Bookstart Educational Programme (BEP)

The BEP is an integrated home-based ECE and early childhood development (ECD) programme which is currently being implemented across the UK. The programme targets both pre-school children and their parents and / or caregivers and therefore primarily strives to enhance access to pre-school education for all children in the UK and to nurture a culture of home-based learning by encouraging parents and / or caregivers to share (read) books, stories and rhymes with their children from as early an age as possible.


The institutionalisation of the BEP was premised on the long-established fact that parents, as children’s primary caregivers and educators, play a critical role in shaping children’s psychosocial (i.e. cognitive, emotional, personality, language etc) development and thus their overall lives as well as on scientific (mostly psychological) evidence which attest that access to quality ECE positively impacts children’s cognitive development which, in turn, enhances their potential for successful long-term learning. In light of this and as detailed below, Booktrust provides participating families with a variety of age-specific thematic learning resources, including books and interactive games, which seek to enhance children’s psychosocial and literacy skills development by capturing their imaginative curiosity about the world around them.

Programme Aims and Objectives

As an integrated and intergenerational educational programme, the BEP has numerous goals. Most importantly, however, the programme endeavours to:

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies


The BEP is currently being implemented with assistance and sponsorship from the government (including local authorities) and private sector (e.g. book publishers, libraries and book sellers). Through this innovative public and private partnership, Booktrust is able to use relatively small amounts of public money as a catalyst for releasing a much larger contribution from the private sector. For example, for every £1 invested by the Department for Education, Booktrust generates an additional £4 in support from its private sector partners. In addition to financial support, Booktrust also receives significant material contributions, such as free book gifts, from its private partners.
Technical Support

The implementation of the BEP is heavily dependant on parents and / or caregivers who act as the principal facilitators and educators. However, given that most parents and caregivers are not trained ECE and ECD practitioners while some may be semi-literate or even functionally illiterate, Booktrust works closely with local library staff, health visiting teams and local ECE and ECD practitioners to support parents and caregivers in executing their duties. Such technical support has been invaluable in ensuring the effective and efficient implementation of the programme since its inception in 1992.

Mobilisation of Participants

Booktrust employs several strategies and mechanisms to mobilise families to participate in the BEP and, in particular, to encourage parents and caregivers to proactively participate in their children’s formative learning process and development. Noteworthy, the Trust routinely flights informative advertisements in the public media (i.e. community and national newspapers, magazines and television and radio stations) and holds regular community-based advocacy campaigns (e.g. through its rhyme week programme) imploring parents and caregivers not only to enlist with the programme but also to regularly read books with their children. Pamphlets and educational blogs on its website and on popular social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are also regularly produced for the same purpose. In addition, these platforms are also used to inform and update the public, programme participants, potential participants and other stakeholders about the Trust’s programme activities within their communities. Booktrust also hosts downloadable resources on its website including, for example, book reviews and interactive games, which are available for free use by learners and readers of all ages and abilities. Such a strategy plays a critical role not only in promoting intergenerational learning by making learning resources easily available to all but also in motivating families to join and continue to participating in the BEP.

Procurement and Distribution of Teaching-Learning Materials

In order to ensure the successful and sustainable implementation of the BEP, Booktrust provides participating families with free book packs for use by children of different age-groups and abilities as well as ECE teaching-guidance modules for use by parents and / or caregivers who act as the programme’s primary facilitators or educators. Children’s reading or learning packages are carefully selected by a panel of ECE and ECD experts and often cover a wide spectrum of themes including fiction, rhymes and illustrated short stories etc. Although these book packages are mostly procured at a low cost or as gifts from Booktrust’s long-standing private partners such as public libraries, book-sellers, and book publishing houses, Booktrust is solely responsible for selecting books and other learning resources without undue influence from the government or publishers. This ensures that the programme is not usurped for commercial or political purposes.

Furthermore, in order to ensure that the programme remains relevant to all, the teaching-learning resources are often selected to reflect and satisfy the differing needs of individual communities and their families. In general, however, a BEP teaching-learning package includes one or more of the following items:

Monitoring and Evaluation

In addition to internal programme impact assessment reviews which are undertaken by the Trust on an ongoing basis (e.g. the Booktrust National Impact Evaluation, 2009), Booktrust has also commissioned several external evaluation studies such as the Bookstart: The First Five Years by Moore, M & Wade, B: 1993, 1998 and 2000; the Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis of Bookstart by Just Economics LLP and Booktrust: Family Reading Activity Survey, 2010 by Fatherhood Institute & ICM Research to delineate the impact of the programme in the UK. Noteworthy, most recently, Booktrust commissioned Just Economics LLP to conduct a forecasted Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis in order to quantify the social, environmental and economic value created by Bookstart in England for the 2009/10 financial year. As detailed below, these studies revealed that the BEP has had a positive impact not only children and their families but also on the wider society.


The BEP has had a significant impact on the development and expansion of ECE in the UK since its inception in 1992. Most significantly, the programme reaches more than 2 million children every year and has been the main conduit through which Booktrust procures and distributes about 2 155 000 book packs annually to families across the country (i.e. 2 010,000 in England, 70 000 in Wales and 75 000 in Northern Ireland). Qualitatively, several evaluation reports have highlighted the following key programme impacts:

In light of its significant impact in the UK, the BEP has now been adopted by more than twenty-four (24) countries across the world and Booktrust provides these affiliates with technical support in the implementation of the BEP.


Ms Louise Chadwick
Head of Public Policy and Research
Address: Book House, 45 East Hill,
London SW18 2QZ
Telephone: 07796 384 644
Email: louise.chadwick (at)
Web site: or

Last update: 6 February 2012