By hook or by crook, let's awaken a love of books

Most junior pupils do not read daily outside school, study finds

The majority of eight- to 11-year-olds do not read every day outside school, large-scale research into children's reading habits reveals. Just 40 per cent read daily and 12.5 per cent rarely or never read outside class, according to a survey of almost 11,000 children run by the National Literacy Trust.

The analysis also finds a continuing socio-economic divide. Forty per cent of UK children who are eligible for free school meals (FSM) say that their parents do not care if they spend time reading, compared with 25 per cent of their peers. Seven per cent of the FSM pupils surveyed have no children's books in their home and are less likely to have been given a book as a present, or to have visited a library or bookshop.

The research was commissioned for the Read On Get On campaign, launched this week. This coalition of educationalists and charities, spearheaded by Save the Children, aims to ensure that all pupils leave primary school able to read well by 2025.

According to the campaign, "reading well" means being able to read, understand and discuss books such as the Harry Potter novels and Treasure Island, and is equivalent to national curriculum level 4b. In 2013, 40 per cent of FSM pupils did not reach this level, compared with 22 per cent of their classmates.

The research finds that daily reading is strongly linked to literacy skills, with children who read daily outside class five times more likely to perform above the expected level for their age in reading than their peers.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said the research highlighted the vital role parents and carers played in reading with children, even for short periods. "They don't need to find big chunks of time," he said. "Parents, carers, grandparents and anyone with a child in their life can make a huge difference by reading for just 10 minutes a day."

At Surrey Square Primary School in South London, where 56 per cent of pupils have been eligible for FSM over the past six years, deputy headteacher Katie Hanley said that schools needed to remove the barriers faced by parents in supporting their children to read.

She spoke of one parent who lacked confidence in her own reading ability, but was trained in how to read with her son. Through daily reading, the boy made two years' progress in six months. "[The mother] couldn't read well," Ms Hanley said. "The thought of having to support him frightened her, but by giving her strategies to help, he was put back on track.

"The expectations on schools are high. To reach those expectations we have to support parents and not just assume they have the necessary skills to support their child."

The survey also reveals a gender divide, with more girls than boys enjoying reading "very much" or "quite a lot"; 40 per cent of girls enjoy reading very much but only 28 per cent of boys agree. And 17 per cent of children would be embarrassed to be seen reading by their friends, rising to 25 per cent among FSM children, the survey finds.

Dr Christina Clark, who led the study, said: "We do know from this research that there's an important relationship between reading enjoyment, frequency and attainment and that one has a knock-on effect on the other.

"We don't yet know the sequence of this cycle - if changes in reading skill precede reading frequency and enjoyment, for example. The cycle may indeed change and look different for different groups of children. Girls may experience it in a different order to boys."

Parents are the key

At Mill Field Primary School in Leeds, two-thirds of pupils have claimed free school meals in the past six years. Headteacher Stephen Watkins believes that engaging parents is key to improving literacy rates.

"We send every child home with a book to read every night," he says. "But if you are in a very low-income family, your priority before hearing children read might be whether you have anything to feed them.

"Some children don't have anyone to read to, so we hear them read at school. An added complication is that children don't have books at home, they haven't seen parents read. It's not considered a pleasure, so we have a reward system.

"We went through the library and gave some of the old books to children. One boy came back and told his teacher he'd read the book and liked it. His teacher asked if he had read it again. He said: `I can't, my mummy sold it.' "

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