Children’s reading enjoyment at lowest level in 20 years

Children’s reading enjoyment at lowest level in 20 years

by Suswati Basu
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A recent study from the National Literacy Trust exposes a disheartening drop in children’s reading enjoyment, hitting its lowest point in nearly two decades.

In a striking revelation, the latest research by the National Literacy Trust indicates that children’s reading enjoyment has sharply declined to its lowest level in almost twenty years. An astounding 56% of children and young people aged eight to 18 now admit to not finding pleasure in reading during their free time. This statistic signifies an unparalleled low since the survey’s inception in 2005, representing a substantial 15.2 percentage point decrease from its peak in 2016.

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The study’s findings underscore the immediate necessity to nurture a robust reading culture within schools, communities, and households, with the aim of enhancing children’s accomplishments in academics and life beyond. The National Literacy Trust said it remains unwavering in its mission to cultivate a love for reading and provide support for the educational development of young minds.

Farms for City Children CEO Donna Marie Edmonds called the situation a ‘travesty.” While prominent author Michael Rosen also reposted an article about it.

Disparities in children’s reading enjoyment among marginalised communities

One of the most concerning aspects brought to light by the research pertains to the stark contrast in reading enjoyment levels among children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Shockingly, over 60% of children dependent on Free School Meals admit to lacking enthusiasm for reading during their leisure hours. This issue is exacerbated by recent exam data from 2022’s KS2 attainment records, which reveals that more than a third of children relying on Free School Meals complete primary school without attaining the expected reading proficiency level. As poverty rates continue to surge, this alarming number is at risk of further escalation. The resulting widening achievement gap poses a threat of leaving more children lagging behind their more privileged peers in terms of education and literacy skills—an inequality with enduring consequences.

The imperative of cultivating a reading passion

Martin Galway, the Head of Schools at the National Literacy Trust, emphasised the transformative potential of instilling a love for reading within children. He stressed that today’s findings about children’s reading enjoyment must serve as a clarion call for all stakeholders invested in promoting reading for pleasure. While the government’s revised Reading Framework (DfE, 2023) offers a glimmer of hope for prioritising reading enjoyment, concrete and immediate actions are imperative to reshape this narrative for underprivileged children across the nation.

“Sparking a love of reading can change a child’s life. Today’s results must act as a wake-up call for all who support children’s reading for pleasure.”

Martin Galway, National Literacy Trust Head of Schools

Galway underscores the urgency of providing every possible opportunity for children returning to school in September to embrace reading. He also underscores the need for enhanced support from families and schools to integrate reading for enjoyment at the core of every educational setting.

Notably, specific groups reveal a striking gap in their enjoyment of reading during leisure compared to their experiences at school. Boys and children from less privileged backgrounds frequently express a greater preference for reading while in a school environment. The research underscores the positive impact of role models and access to books that resonate with them. A tranquil reading space also emerges as a critical factor in nurturing reading habits.

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The National Literacy Trust states that it hasalready committed to several initiatives designed to ignite a passion for reading. These initiatives encompass expanding primary school libraries through the Primary School Library Alliance and providing diverse, high-quality books to children who might lack access at home as part of the Young Readers Programme. With a history spanning over 25 years, the Young Readers Programme has empowered countless children, with one in five participants stating that the book they chose marked their first ever ownership.

Collaborative measures to reignite reading

Francesca Simon, a renowned author and ambassador for the National Literacy Trust, acknowledges the sobering impact of reading on children’s lives. She witnesses the profound effects firsthand during her school visits and notes the transformative outcomes resulting from the National Literacy Trust’s tireless efforts and inspiring initiatives.

“We cannot let a generation of children lose out on the benefits that reading can bring.”

Francesca Simon, National Literacy Trust ambassador

Simon underscores the urgency of preventing an entire generation of children from forfeiting the enriching benefits that reading offers—ranging from stimulating imagination to seeking comfort and solace in alternate worlds. She reiterates the shared responsibility of authors, publishers, schools, and families to ensure every child enjoys a secure environment and unhindered access to books, thereby setting them on an enduring journey of literary exploration.

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