The television set has traditionally been the primary teacher's nemesis, luring children away from the written word to the flickering screen. But now a new survey reveals that increasing numbers of children prefer reading to watching television.
Almost 4,500 pupils in Years 4 and 6 were interviewed by researchers at the National Foundation of Education Research (NFER), to find out their attitudes to reading. Two-thirds said they enjoy it and the same proportion say they read at home most days.
These results have been contrasted with those from similar surveys conducted by the NFER in 2003 and 1998. This comparison revealed that, while in 2003 almost two-thirds of 11-year-olds preferred watching television to reading, only 55 per cent would now choose TV over a book.
Marian Sainsbury, who conducted the study, said many children are now devoting time previously spent in front of the TV to surfing the internet and playing computer games.
"There's paper-based entertainment and screen-based entertainment," she said. "And reading on-screen has changed the balance between TV and books."
But she nonetheless welcomes the reverse in the TV-watching trend. "Children see stories on TV providing them with rich literature in the way books do," she said. "Now children are getting their stories from both places.
"There have been a lot of initiatives over the last few years promoting reading as important and fun. Those initiatives should be continued and redoubled."
The latest survey also reveals that boys are twice as likely as girls to say that they are not interested in books at all. They are also significantly more likely to find reading difficult and boring.
Girls are more likely than boys to say that they liked reading stories, but comics have overtaken books as the most popular reading material among Year 4 pupils of both sexes.
Dr Sainsbury said: "Comics have always been a popular read. They're an easier read than books. But children should be reading, so reading anything is fine."