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News story

Our latest research reveals children’s writing crisis

04 Jun 2024

Close up of a student writing during a National Literacy Trust poetry workshop

The National Literacy Trust is urging swift action from the incoming government in response to our new research which reveals the extent of children and young people’s writing crisis.

Children and young people’s enjoyment of writing and daily writing habits are at crisis point, according to new research we have published today.

Read our research report in full

Key findings from the research

Our Annual Literacy Survey of more than 76,000 UK children and young people revealed that, in 2024:

  • Fewer than 3 in 10 (28.7%) 8 to 18-year-olds say they enjoy writing in their free time – the lowest level recorded by the charity since it first started asking children about their writing in 2010.
  • 1 in 9 (11.1%) say they write daily in their free time, halving in the past 12 months (19.3% in 2023).
  • 1 in 3 (35.7%) say they rarely or never write in their free time, a troubling increase of 55% (12.7 percentage points) in the same time.

Children’s enjoyment of writing and daily writing habits peak when they start primary school but steadily decline until they leave secondary school. Indeed, three times as many children in key stage 1 (aged 5-8) than those in key stage 4 (aged 14-16) say they enjoy writing and five times as many say they write something daily in their free time.

Meanwhile, more girls than boys enjoy writing and write daily in their free time.

Simultaneously, young people’s writing skills are a cause for concern. Last year, 3 in 10 (29%) 11-year-olds left primary school without the writing skills expected for their age while a third (34.9%) of 16-year-olds did not achieve a grade 4 or above in English and maths GCSEs; with those from disadvantaged backgrounds worse affected.

What is the impact of these findings?

When children and young people enjoy writing and write daily in their free time, their writing skills, critical thinking skills, confidence, creativity and wellbeing benefit.

Children and young people who wrote at least once a month in their spare time said the process of writing:

  • helps them to be creative (59.1%)
  • helps them express their ideas and imagination (52.8%)
  • helps them express their thoughts and feelings (47.7%)
  • supports their wellbeing, with many writing to relax (40.4%) and because it makes them happy (33.1%) and
  • can help them get a better job when they grow up (36.2%).

The importance of writing at school

Interestingly, while children’s enjoyment of writing at home is in sharp decline, the opposite is true for their enjoyment of writing at school.

More than half of children and young people (53.6%) now say they enjoy writing at school, a 22% (9.7 percentage points) uplift in just the past year.

What's more, providing opportunities for children and young people to feel inspired to write at school was found to be linked to their enjoyment and frequency of writing in their free time.

Twice as many young people who took part in a creative writing group, storyteller visit, book group or writing competition in school last year said that they enjoy writing in their free time and write daily compared to their peers who did not take part in those activities.*

What about children on free school meals?

We found that more children and young people who receive free school meals said they enjoyed writing in their free time than their peers (34.2% vs 26.1%) and wrote daily outside school (14.8% vs 9.5%).

More children on free school meals also enjoyed writing at school than their peers (57.3% vs 51.5%) and, crucially, were motivated to write in their free time to support their mental wellbeing and foster social connections.

This 14-year trend has remained steady in the face of three recessions, a global pandemic and the unprecedented cost-of-living crisis that profoundly impacted families and exacerbated pressures on schools.

Additionally, this year we found that more children and young people who received free school meals were motivated to write in their free time to support their mental wellbeing and to foster social connections.

What are we doing about the children's writing crisis?

Recognising the vital role teachers and schools can play in helping young people discover a love of writing, and the support they need to do so, the National Literacy Trust is urging the Department for Education’s forthcoming writing framework to reflect the importance of writing for enjoyment for children’s cognitive, social and emotional development; in much the same way that its updated reading framework now includes the importance of developing a reading for pleasure culture.

Jonathan Douglas CBE, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust, said: 

“With children and young people’s enjoyment of writing at an all-time low, and high numbers leaving primary and secondary school without the writing skills they need to thrive, children’s futures are being put at risk. 

“It is now time to provide children and young people with more meaningful opportunities, both in and out of school, to reconnect with the creative elements of writing which transform it into an enjoyable activity that allows for self-expression and that works as a tool to process struggles, make sense of the world and participate actively in civic life.

“Reflecting the importance of creative writing and writing for enjoyment in the Department for Education’s forthcoming writing framework would be a major step towards this aim and towards helping more children discover a love of writing which can transform their lives.”

Award-winning children’s author, Malorie Blackman OBE, added: 

“The findings are a definite cause for concern. The writing of stories, poems, journals and diaries allows for reflection, expression, innovation and imagination, all of which are stepping stones to improving creativity as well as mental wellbeing. I hope the report is used as the spur to further engender and encourage a love of writing for pleasure.”

* We asked a subset of children aged 8 to 16 about whether they had taken part in various creative opportunities at school.

Free resources to support children's writing

We've pulled together a range of free resources to help teachers and families encourage children’s writing at school and at home.

For teachers

With National Writing Day (19 June) around the corner, early years, primary and secondary educators can access free activities, resources, classroom ideas and session plans to help inspire pupils’ writing.

For families

Discover our Words for Life website packed with a wealth of free activities, ideas and inspiration to help children of all ages get excited about writing at home.

Our commitment to changing lives through the power of literacy

You can find out more about how we are calling on all political parties to support us to advance our vision for a more equal society, driven by literacy. Read the National Literacy Trust 2024 manifesto.

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