Pandemic reading engagement gains slip away

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Four in five boys from disadvantaged backgrounds do not read on a daily basis, while only half of students say they actually enjoy reading.

Research involving more than 70,000 students aged 5 to 18 from 327 schools in England, Scotland and Wales also shows that only 28% of all students say they read on a daily basis.

The National Literacy Trust’s (NLT) annual reading engagement report (Cole et al, 2022) warns that increases in children and young people’s reading engagement during the early stages of the pandemic had been “completely eroded” by early 2022.

The report states: “This is particularly the case for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and, within this group, for boys. It is clear that much more must be done to support children and young people with the lowest levels of reading enjoyment, recognising the role that families, schools and the wider community have to play in ensuring this downward trend does not extend into future years.”

The report highlights that it is pupils in key stages 1 and 3 who have experienced the greatest learning loss in reading as a result of Covid disruption.

Overall, the report finds that reading enjoyment has dropped, with only 48% of students aged 8 to 18 stating that the enjoy reading. This figure drops to 44% for free school meals (FSM) students. It drops further still for boys on FSM (to 39.8%).

Concerningly, reading enjoyment also falls with age. Three-quarters of pupils aged 5 to 8 enjoy reading compared to 45% of students aged 14 to 16.

When it comes to reading on a daily basis, only 28% of the respondents do, falling to 25% for FSM students, and falling again to 21% for boys on FSM.

Notably, when asked about barriers to reading, 27% of all the respondents said that they cannot find things to read that interest them.

The report adds: “Any gains made in terms of children and young people’s reading engagement during the early part of the pandemic had completely eroded by early 2022. Indeed, fewer children and young people enjoyed reading and read in their free time in 2022 compared with the previous two years, and many of the years before.”

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The NLT runs a number of free programmes aimed at engaging reluctant or struggling readers, including football and sports-themed initiatives that might inspire disadvantaged boys among others.

This includes the Rugby Reading Champions project and Premier League Reading Stars for primary schools and the Skills Academy aimed at year 7 and 8 students.

Jim Sells, programme manager for sports and literacy at the NLT, explained: “While our football-themed programmes are designed to support children from any background who are not meeting expected standards, we often find that teachers select a high percentage of boys to participate.

“By going into the places and spaces that children feel comfortable in, like their local football club, and showing them how football and reading – of any kind – can go hand in hand, we are giving young people the motivation to improve their literacy skills and take control of their lives.

“This is not about lazy assumptions, that it’s just boys that love football or that all boys love football. Our recent work on the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 has inspired not just boys but all young people. But this research has id­entified a specific need to support schools to inspire boys to read more often.”

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