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Children and young people’s reading engagement in 2021

Added 12 Oct 2021 | Updated 18 Oct 21

This report builds on our research during the first national lockdown in spring 2020 by highlighting how children and young people felt about reading in early 2021, a period that coincided with the third national lockdown in the UK (reports are also available on writing in 2021 and listening to audiobooks in 2021). We conducted our latest Annual Literacy Survey between January and mid-March 2021. Despite the ongoing pandemic and disruptions to schools, 42,502 children and young people aged 8 to 18 from 117 UK schools participated in this online survey.

Key findings

  • 1 in 2 (51.5%) children and young people said that they enjoyed reading. This is slightly lower than the percentage we recorded during the first spring lockdown in 2020 (55.9%), but higher than levels at the beginning of 2020 when we evidenced the lowest level of reading enjoyment (47.8%) since we first asked this question in 2005.
    • The gap between those who received free school meals (FSMs) and those who didn’t doubled over the course of the year (from 2.1 percentage points in early 2020 to 4.6 percentage points in early 2021), with more non-FSM than FSM pupils saying that they enjoyed reading.
    • Indeed, the year between early 2020 and early 2021 had a particularly detrimental impact on the reading enjoyment of boys who received FSMs, where we saw a drop of 5.2 percentage points in the number of boys on FSMs who enjoyed reading. Only 2 in 5 (41.4%) of these boys said that they enjoyed reading in 2021 compared with 46.1% of boys not receiving FSMs.
  • 3 in 10 (30.1%) children and young people said in 2021 that they read something daily in their free time, which is lower than the level we recorded during the first national lockdown in spring 2020 but on a par with levels we evidenced in early 2020.
    • The gap in daily reading also widened between those who received FSMs and those who didn’t during the first national lockdown in spring 2021, favouring those not receiving FSMs. By early 2021, this gap had narrowed again, but it remains higher than in early 2020.
  • Reading to relax was one of the main reasons why children and young people were reading in early 2021, with 1 in 2 (52.7%) saying this, followed by two educational aspects, namely helping to learn about new things (51.4%) and learning new words (49.8%).
  • 2 in 5 (44.6%) children and young people agreed that reading made them feel better.
  • By far the most popular reading that children and young people do in their free time is text/direct messages (92.4%) followed by in-game communications (87.4%). Still, 1 in 2 (51.0%) read fiction on paper in their free time whereas nearly 3 in 10 (28.1%) also read fiction on screen.
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