3 The decline in children Reading for Pleasure
Every year in the UK, the National Literacy Trust asks children and young people about their reading habits (Clark and Teravainen-Goff, 2020). In 2019, 56,906 children and young people between the ages of 9 and 18 responded to the survey, alongside 3,748 5–8-year-olds who participated in a specially designed version of the survey for the first time.
The 2019 survey revealed a worrying situation: only 53% of children and young people stated that they enjoy reading, and 25.8% reported that they read daily. In fact, the percentage who said they enjoy reading was at its lowest since 2013, having dropped sharply since 2016.
As in previous years, girls reported more enjoyment of reading than boys. Reading enjoyment also varied in different age groups; while 76.3% of 5–8-year-olds enjoy reading, the figure was only 40.2% for 14–16-year-olds. The 5–8 age group was also most likely to report reading outside the classroom on a daily basis.
The UK is not alone in the decline of children’s Reading for Pleasure. Data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey of 15-year-olds also indicated a 5% decline in reading for enjoyment between 2000 and 2010, noting the decline was greatest for boys and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (OECD, 2010).
Personal reflection 2
Think about your own reading practices during your childhood. How would you have answered the following question at age 6, at age 10 and at age 15?
Do you enjoy reading?
- Very much
- Quite a lot
- A bit
- Not at all
What motivated or demotivated your reading at different points in your childhood? Did any barriers stand in the way of you choosing to read regularly?
When the course team shared their reflections, it highlighted how different we all were as readers in childhood. Teresa has always enjoyed reading, though her engagement dropped off at university. Lucy was less enthusiastic about reading throughout childhood. Helen was an avid childhood reader at 6 and 10 but by 15 read less frequently for pleasure. Sarah recalled that she always loved reading, being read to and being around books.
The course team’s volitional reading was influenced by our hobbies and passions, our families and friendship groups and our access to engaging reading materials.
Reflecting on the factors that influenced your own reading journey will help you understand the children in your class as readers.
With such a significant drop in children choosing to read as a pastime, it is the responsibility of policy makers, school leaders, educators, librarians, community and youth workers, and parents to support and encourage children to read, not only as part of the curriculum, but in their own free time, for their own purposes.
In the National Curriculum in England (DfE, 2013), Reading for Pleasure is not only recommended, but also mandated. Yet how can pleasure be mandated? It is possible to insist that children spend time reading in school – but it’s not possible to insist they enjoy it! Despite this, research suggests that there is a great deal that can be done to support and encourage children to become eager and engaged readers.
The benefits of Reading for Pleasure that you considered in Section 2 highlight the need for it to have a prominent place in school curricula; the next section will discuss how developing children’s reading habits requires dedicated time and research-informed pedagogies.