The shocking truth about literacy

1 in 7 children left primary school in 2013 unable to read to the required standard – that’s around a staggering 75,600 children.

Illiteracy is a huge problem, both socially and economically, as research proves:

  • 70% of pupils permanently excluded from school have difficulties in basic literacy skills
  • 25% of young offenders are said to have reading skills below those of the average seven-year-old
  • 60% of the prison population is said to have difficulties in basic literacy skills.

The importance of reading for pleasure

It’s true that children and young people who do not achieve expected levels of literacy are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.

However, 2013 research by Dr Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown from the Institute of Education shows that reading for pleasure is more important for children’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education.

Reading for pleasure is also more important than either wealth or social class as an indicator of success at school.

Research has shown 10 to 16-year-olds who read for pleasure do better at school and reading books is the only out-of-school activity for 16-year-olds demonstrably linked to securing managerial or professional jobs.

Adult literacy

According to The Reading Agency, there is a new understanding of the importance of adults enjoying reading and reading for pleasure. It helps to improve skills at the same time as increasing enjoyment, self-confidence and motivation.

Plus, regular reading is associated with a 35% reduction in the risk of dementia and it can reduce stress levels by 68%.

Failing our children

The evidence supporting the benefits of reading is overwhelming, while the evidence that illiteracy can result in deprivation and disadvantage is equally as strong. A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household.

We are failing our children in the UK by not helping more of them achieve reading success.

In October 2013 English 16 to 24-year-olds came 22nd out of 24 countries measured for literacy levels by the OECD.

Only 40% of England’s 10 year olds have a positive attitude to reading, while the figure for Italy is 64% and 58% for Germany.

Will you make time for your child?

  • 14% of children in lower income homes rarely or never read books for pleasure.
  • Only 1 in 5 parents easily find the opportunity to read to their children.


  • Children who are read to every day at age three have a vocabulary at age five that is nearly two months more advanced than those that are not.
  • A child taken to the library on a monthly basis from ages three to five is two and a half months ahead of an equivalent child at age five who did not visit the library so regularly.

As parents we are the most important reading role models for our children. It doesn’t have to cost very much and all it requires is a bit of time. Helping our children learn to read is almost certainly the one single thing we can do to improve their chances in life.

Isn’t that worth making a bit of time for?