IIf there was one good thing coming out of lockdowns, it was improved book sales and reading rates, especially among children. A survey of 70,000 children and young people by the National Literacy Trust, however, found that this gain has now disappeared: the figures are now equal to just before the pandemic, when the trust recorded the lowest levels of reading enjoyment (just under 50%) since he first asked the question 17 years ago. A concurrent study of 8,000 children aged five to eight found that almost one in five didn’t have a book at home.
These questions do not relate to basic literacy but to the habit of reading: the children questioned spoke of books giving them topics of conversation; entertainment and information; to read helping them to understand people who are not themselves; to find in books a place of escape and an attenuation of loneliness; help in dealing with difficulties. “It helps me understand how I feel. It’s because I find it difficult to express my emotions and I prefer not to bother anyone,” as one child said.
Children who read at home are six times more likely being able to read beyond expected levels, while a study of 160,000 adults from 31 countries found that children whose homes held at least 80 books, but whose schooling ended at 13 or 14 years old, were “as literate, numeric, and technologically adept in adulthood as they were in college. graduates who grew up with only a few books”. Another found that these children also earned more.
It’s not that most parents and caregivers don’t understand this. A reason often given for the lack of books in the home is the cost of living. Almost a fifth of UK public libraries have closed in 10 years, while one in eight primary schools in England, rising to one in four in deprived communities, have no library or designated reading space. Moreover, the Department for Education, with its insistence on systematic synthetic phonetics, would do well to heed the number of children who told the National Literacy Trust that teaching in primary schools had deterred them from reading. Compared to other problems facing this country, it is relatively easy to solve the provision of varied reading materials. We owe it to the children to do it.