We can be proud of England's 10-year-olds, who came third out of 35 countries in the Reading All Over the World study published last week.
They were beaten only by Sweden and Holland (Finland, the perennial winner in such contests, was not involved). The tests used in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study research showed that youngsters here were good at "higher order" skills such as inference and comprehension.
But there are concerns. While the best readers in English schools outdid even the Swedes, we, along with other English-speaking countries, have a much longer "tail of underachievement". While in all countries, unsurprisingly, the best readers were the ones most likely to enjoy books, English children were less likely than those in many lower-scoring countries to read for pleasure or to feel confident about their abilities.
Intriguingly, the children in the former Soviet bloc were the most likely to read for fun. Lithuania came a creditable seventh in reading achievement but second in enjoyment. It was beaten by Russia (16th in achievement). In this, book-loving nation, 59 per cent of young people said they read for pleasure every day or almost every day. It seemed worth finding out why. DH