A TES survey of 360 primary teachers in England and Wales found that more than nine out of 10 read aloud to their pupils at least once a week. But nearly half of Year 6 teachers have reduced read-aloud activities in the past five years, largely because of tests and curriculum constraints.
David Sherhod, a Year 6 teacher in Kent, said: "I would like to read much more to my class, but it is extremely difficult in Year 6. There are so many competing interests in the curriculum that something has to give."
The survey found that one in three teachers had less time to read books to their class than they did five years ago, although nearly one in five had more.
All infant children were read to either every day or on most days.
The biggest obstacles preventing read-aloud work were the national curriculum, cited by 86 per cent, and tests, mentioned by 32 per cent.
Other problems included poor pupil behaviour, which 12 per cent said had disrupted sessions; 11 per cent said it was hard to find suitable books and 7 per cent said heads were unsupportive.
Amanda Hanbury, a Year 1 teacher at St Joseph's RC primary in Harrow, Middlesex, said she read to her class every day but it was a race against the bell. "I concentrate on doing a story session twice a week, and on the other three days I just read them a story and then it's home time," she said.
The importance of reading aloud to older primary pupils will be emphasised for Year 56 teachers in guidance to be published this summer by the National Primary Strategy and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, a London-based charity.
Sue McGonigle, advisory teacher for the centre, said: "Reading aloud to the class is the most important thing a teacher can do. Teachers should read aloud every day throughout primary school."
The national curriculum has always stated that pupils should learn to listen to readings, but teachers felt this was sidelined when speaking and listening were not included in the National Literacy Strategy in 1998, although they were included in the Primary National Strategy in 2003.
Michael Morpurgo, the children's author, said: "The very first requirement in teaching literacy is that children view books as something they enjoy.
Get a child enthusiastic about stories, the rest will follow."
Sue Palmer, author of a new book on teaching classes to listen, said:
"Listening to a book is not just about the story - it is about human interaction, and about children knowing that their teacher has taken the time to choose and read them a story."
TES reading survey, pages 14-15