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More than half of UK children do not read in their spare time, survey reveals

Missing out: campaigners say children who do not develop a love of reading are at a disadvantage. Photograph: Kaliantye/Alamy

National Literacy Trust says families and schools need resources to help disadvantaged children develop vital literacy skills

As reported in The Guardian Monday 4th September 2023

More than half of children and young people do not enjoy reading in their free time, according to a survey from the National Literacy Trust (NLT). The charity said reading enjoyment was lowest among disadvantaged children, and warned that the research should serve as a “wake-up call”.

More than 56% of eight to 18-year-olds said that they do not enjoy reading in their spare time, while reading enjoyment has fallen to the lowest level since the charity began the survey in 2005. Of the 64,066 children surveyed, 43% said they enjoyed reading in their free time – down 15 percentage points from a peak of about 58% in 2016.

Reading enjoyment, reading levels at school and overall literacy skills were lowest among children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Of those children who receive free school meals, 60% said they do not enjoy reading in their free time.

Martin Galway, head of school programmes at the NLT, said: “Sparking a love of reading can change a child’s life.” He added that the greater focus on reading for enjoyment in the government’s revised reading framework “offers some measure of hope, but we will need real and immediate impact to change this story for the country’s most disadvantaged children.”

Galway continued: “For children going back to school this September, we need to give them every opportunity possible to fall in love with reading, and to give families and schools the support they need to put reading for enjoyment at the heart of every school and home.”

The research also indicated that children are more likely to read if they have a quiet space, support from role models, and access to books that represent them. It also found that children who are more likely to report not enjoying reading in their free time – boys and children from disadvantaged backgrounds – enjoy reading more when they do so at school.

Francesca Simon, author of the Horrid Henry series of children’s books, said that the research “hits hard” for “everyone who understands the huge impact reading has on children”.

She added: “We cannot let a generation of children lose out on the benefits that reading can bring” – benefits that include “inspiring the imagination, the comfort and escape of another world, and the very real and impactful literacy skills it supports”. Simon urged authors, publishers, schools and families to work together to “make sure every child has the safe space and access to books to start them on their reading journey”.