The gift of learning that teachers give to our children, to our Island community and to our nation, is unique.

Teachers are some of the most important people in the Island community, and teaching children to love reading is perhaps the most important role a primary teacher has.

Last week, at St Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Primary School in Carisbrooke, many of our Island’s primary school heads came together to plan how we can help Island children to read better.

I was privileged to join them. Thank to you all at St Thomas’s for hosting us.

The teaching system now used in our schools is called phonics.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that it works. Indeed, it is making us a world leader in education.

Our children came fourth in the world in early years reading. That is an extraordinary achievement, and one that we need to shout about more.

Conservative governments have focused on the phonics teaching system in primary schools since 2010.

Between 2012 and 2019, the percentage of six-year-olds reading words fluently rose from 58 per cent to 82 per cent.

That sadly went backwards under Covid, and on the Island sadly our children’s reading is lower than the national average.

That’s why we need to focus again on driving up reading skills.

There is financial and practical support for schools – up to £9,000.

Teach a child to read well and they are much, much more likely to lead fulfilling lives, to express themselves, to work, to enjoy books and culture.

Illiteracy is a disaster for individuals and our society on so many levels.

There are two stats that never fail to surprise me.

First, six out of ten inmates in our prison system have the reading ability of an 11-year-old or less.

Second, success in life is not dependent on class or race background, but reading ability.

Our reading centre of excellent is in Southampton, and I thank them for their support, but I have told ministers - and they have agreed - that we must have our own centre of excellence on the Island.

For headteachers who missed out on our day, please contact the Department for Education or myself if you’d like to know more.

I thank so much those teachers - our early reading heroes - that are encouraging children to love reading. It is a true gift that they have.