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News story

Our latest research reveals that children’s reading enjoyment is at its lowest level in almost two decades

01 Sep 2023


Today we have published new research which shows that over half (56%) of children and young people aged 8 – 18 don’t enjoy reading in their free time. This is an all-time low statistic since we began surveying children in 2005 and is down 15.2 percentage points from its height in 2016. In light of these findings, we are continuing our mission for a strong reading culture in schools, communities and homes to support children’s success in school and beyond.

Levels of reading enjoyment were found to be weakest for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, with over 60% of children on Free School Meals saying they don’t enjoy reading in their free time. We know from recent exam data [2022 KS2 attainment data,] that over a third of children on Free School Meals are leaving primary school without reaching the expected level of reading, and with poverty rates rising this number is in danger of increasing. A widening attainment gap means that even more children could fall behind their more affluent peers in their education and literacy skills, which can go on to have a lifetime impact.

“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. A greater focus on reading for enjoyment in the government’s revised Reading Framework (DfE, 2023) offers some measure of hope, but we will need real and immediate impact to change this story for the country’s most disadvantaged children. 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.”

Martin Galway, Head of Schools at the National Literacy Trust

There are certain groups who often report not enjoying reading in their spare time but who enjoy reading more at school, such as boys and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Today’s research indicates that children are more likely to read if they have support from role models, access to books that represent them a quiet space to read in.

We are already committed to several programmes encouraging children to fall in love with reading, including creating more primary school libraries through the Primary School Library Alliance and getting high-quality, diverse books into the hands of children who may not have any at home as part of our Young Readers Programme. We have been running this programme for over 25 years, and last year 1 in 5 children who took part said the book they chose within the programme was the first one they had ever owned.

“Today’s research from the National Literacy Trust hits hard for everyone who understands the huge impact reading has on children. I see it every day in the schools I visit, and in the children benefitting from the National Literacy Trust’s dedicated work and inspiring programmes. We cannot let a generation of children lose out on the benefits that reading can bring: inspiring the imagination, the comfort and escape of another world, and the very real and impactful literacy skills it supports. We must work together – authors and publishers, schools and families – to make sure every child has the safe space and access to books to start them on their reading journey.”

Francesca Simon, best-selling author and ambassador for the National Literacy Trust
Read the full report
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