Literacy rates are plummeting globally—children aren’t reading

We all know the ability to read and write is essential. At school, it’s the gateway into all other subjects. From helping us communicate effectively to making sense of the world, reading, writing, speaking and listening are arguably the most important skills in life.

We’ve discovered children today are disadvantaged. Not only has a landmark study in the UK described the way primary school pupils are taught to read as “uninformed and failing children”,[1] but children are reading less than ever before. [2]

The causes contributing to the decline


Over the last decade there has been a shift towards using only synthetic phonics to teach children how to pronounce words. Since the adoption of synthetic phonics for reading has been less successful and at the beginning of 2022 the government was advised to drop its narrow focus synthetic phonics. [1]

Synthetic phonics is the teaching of how to blend sounds together. One of the big issues is that this ‘teaching is usually done separately from work on whole texts’. This focus on phonics reduces time spent on other vital aspects of teaching reading.

Studies clearly showed that effective teaching of phonics teaching and reading was delivered by class teachers who combined phonics with teaching of whole texts in phonics/reading lessons. As a result, the gains for children were statistically significant resulting in them making better progress. [1]

Some teacher's and academic's view is that the system doesn’t give teachers enough flexibility to do what they think is best for their pupils, nor to encourage pupils to enjoy reading.

On top of this, schools have been massively affected by the pandemic. From having to adapt to a new way of teaching to sickness and resignations, it’s been a challenge to say the least.

In the UK one in four children aged 11 struggled with learning to read before the pandemic and politicians have warned that this is just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ as no further data has been recorded since 2018 [3]. In the US data is emerging that since the pandemic 1 out of 3 children are now below reading benchmarks. [4]


In addition to academic challenges, we are experiencing the lowest reading rates among children in 19 years. Data shows that in 2019 just 26% of under-18s spent some time each day reading. This is the lowest level recorded since the charity first surveyed children’s reading habits in 2005. [2]

It’s worrying that poor readers are more likely to drop out of high school, earn less money as adults and become involved in crime. [4]

It’s suggested that a key barrier to reading for pleasure in school may be the lack of children’s autonomy and choice over their own reading material, or even the lack of options of reading material available overall. [5]

Why we should focus on reading for pleasure 

We strongly believe reading should be fun. There’s a tonne of research that all points towards reading for pleasure being a significant influence on a child's academic performance and personal growth.

There’s not enough emphasis on reading for pleasure, despite the evidence that it has both educational and social benefits.

Educational benefits

It’s reported that ‘students who read for pleasure make significantly more progress in vocabulary, spelling and maths than children who read very little’. [6]

The Department for Education’s review of reading for pleasure among primary and secondary aged children concluded that there are nine main benefits of reading for pleasure;

  1. Reading and writing ability
  2. Text comprehension and grammar
  3. Breadth of vocabulary
  4. Positive reading attitudes
  5. Greater self-confidence as a reader
  6. Pleasure in reading in later life
  7. General knowledge
  8. A better understanding of other cultures
  9. Increased community participation and a greater insight into human nature and decision-making.

The study emphasises the positive links between reading for pleasure and educational attainment, reinforcing the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development findings that reading habits are more likely to have more influence on educational achievements than socio-economic status. [7]

Social and mental benefits

Reading for pleasure has many non-literacy benefits. It increases our understanding of our own identity as well as others, reading can also increase empathy and improve relationships with others. These are important emotional skills that children can be better equipped with which will improve their wellbeing throughout their lives. [8]

Reading gives us an insight into the worldview of others and can make us feel more connected to wider communities. [8]

Reading is also known to reduce the symptoms of depression in adults. One example of this is the Arts Council England’s 2015 research that found that regular library use can save the NHS a little under £27.5m a year! [9] That’s crazy, right?

So that is why we’ve made our mission to get kids reading every day, and most importantly to enjoy reading. We’ve always loved stories and reading for pleasure. The data is pretty clear, change needs to happen.


[1] Government’s approach to teaching reading is uninformed and failing children | University College London

[2] Children's daily reading levels are the lowest we've ever recorded, our new research finds | The Literacy Trust

[3] One in four children aged 11 in England struggled with learning to read before pandemic | The Independent
[4] It’s ‘Alarming’: Children Are Severely Behind in Reading | The New York Times

[5] Children’s perspectives on reading for pleasure: What can we learn from them and how can we adapt our practice accordingly? | The Chartered College of Teaching

[6] Reading for pleasure and progress in vocabulary and mathematics | ResearchGate

[7] Literature Review: The impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment | The Reading Agency

[8] Benefits of reading for pleasure | BookTrust

[9] The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries | Arts Council

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