March is World Book Day month. It’s a major event on the calendar now, whether you are a reader of children’s books or not, all those dressed up children are hard to miss.
Yet what’s going on behind the scenes?
The CLPE Reading for Pleasure 2022 report highlights a number of urgent challenges schools are facing in helping children discover a love for reading, which is the biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or their income (OECD). The CLPE research reveals that a 25% of schools have fewer books now than before the pandemic, while more than 60% of classrooms have no access to a budget for new books.
It is falling to teachers to plug the gap themselves, with almost two in five (38%) of teachers in England providing new books for their pupils out of their own pocket, as historically small school budgets continue to be constrained post-pandemic. 17% of teachers rely on donations in order to update their book stock, while 8% say they never get new books at all in their classrooms.
Nearly half the teachers (48%) questioned said they are unable to change the books in their classroom during the school year, meaning the opportunity for children to discover new books and explore their tastes and interests is severely limited.
While the majority of primary school teachers questioned (95%) said they have a book corner in their classrooms, over half of these (57%) contain fewer than 100 books. This rises to 84% of classrooms in early years foundation stage (pre-school and Reception) and 73% of classrooms in Year 1.
This is particularly damaging for children whose circumstances mean that they do not have access to books at home and whose reading progress is likely to have been affected adversely by lockdowns. Schools need a wide selection of books to support children to discover and develop a love of reading.
This comes at a time when The Department for Education’s own data shows that over a quarter of 11-year-olds were not reaching the expected standard in reading before the pandemic, and The Centre for Education and Youth’s research – alongside that of other organisations – shows that the pandemic has likely made this worse.
With reading for pleasure among children still at concerning levels – only half of children (51%) say they enjoy reading (National Literary Trust Annual Literacy Report, 2021) – access to a range of reading books is essential for a number of reasons:
- Pupils who fail to learn to read early on start to dislike reading (The Reading Framework, DfE, January 2022)
- Children need to see themselves in the books they read – over a third (34%) of primary school age children in the UK are of an ethnic minority, but in 2020, only 8% of children’s books featured a main character that wasn’t white (CLPE, Reflecting Realities 2020)
- Children who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who are the least engaged (39.4 per cent vs 11.8 per cent, National Literacy Trust, 2018)
- Reading to children often is important and encourages independent reading. However, only one third of children 0-13s were read to daily or nearly every day by parents in 2019. This is in long term decline; in 2012 the figure was 41%, meaning that access to reading books in schools is more important than ever (Learnings from Lockdown, Farshore, 2021)
Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive of CLPE says, ‘To encourage reading for pleasure, classrooms need a wide range of books that encourage engagement whoever you are and whatever your starting point. A stagnant and never-changing book stock is not going to support children to develop this life-changing habit. This is even more important for children who may have less access to books at home – and these children are likely to be those who found it difficult to get hold of books during the lockdowns. Our report shows that teachers know and understand this, resorting to resourcing their classrooms themselves to ensure their children have choice in their reading material.’
There’s an urgent need to prioritise reading for pleasure and give children access to a wider range of books, following the universal disruption to education by the Covid-19 pandemic. At Books for Keeps we will continue to highlight this and to promote the best new books published for young readers.
 OECD (2002) Reading For Change Performance And Engagement Across Countries – Results From PISA 2000.