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Where can I find information about international literacy comparison figures (comparing the UK to other countries)?

There are a number of organisations that can offer literacy statistics on the UK and other countries. Among them are the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development  and the National Foundation for Educational Research.  

For an overview of literacy levels in the UK only, read our report Literacy: State of the Nation.

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Are children spending less time reading than they used to?

Recent research shows that while reading skills have improved in the UK, there is some indication that fewer pupils nowadays read for enjoyment. So, are children spending less time reading than they used to? This is a surprisingly hard question to answer for two reasons. Firstly, large scale surveys of children and young people's reading habits are few and far between. Secondly, more often than not the surveys that have been conducted on the subject have asked about reading frequency in different ways, which makes comparison of different surveys near impossible. However, these problems have been recognised and steps have been taken by a number of researchers to begin collecting meaningful longitudinal data.

Our own annual surveys of children and young people's reading habits have been collecting large-scale data of this kind since 2009. View reports

For an overview of literacy levels in the UK – including reading and writing frequency and parents reading with their children – read our report Literacy: State of the Nation.

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Are children's literacy skills improving or getting worse?

Many more children reach the expected level for their age in literacy than in 1997, before the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy. The key indicator, the percentage of pupils reaching level four (the level expected for their age) in national tests for English (reading and writing) at age 11, has increased from 63 per cent to 80 per cent in this time. In the mid-1990s just half of children reached the level expected for their age. Current literacy levels also represent a significant improvement in children's skills since the mid-20th century, since targets apply to all children, of all abilities and social classes, including those who speak English as an additional language.

The most significant gains were made between 1998-2009, the years immediately following the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy. The 1999 result of 70 per cent was an increase of 10 percentage points on the previous year and the 2000 result increased this again by a further five percentage points. Between 2000-09 results for eleven year olds in England have risen, but at a more gradual rate. 86 per cent of eleven year olds now reach the level expected of them in reading, up from 80 per cent at the start of the decade. The corresponding figures for writing are lower, but also show improvement, 67 per cent of 11 year olds now reach the level expected of them.

The drop off in the year-on-year increase in English has been partially blamed on differing performances between boys and girls: in maths and science, boys and girls reach similar standards; in English, there is a marked gap, particularly in writing.

For an overview of literacy levels in the UK read our report Literacy: State of the Nation

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How many illiterate adults are there in England?

This information is provided on our adult literacy pages.

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What is literacy?

We believe literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen well. A literate person is able to communicate effectively with others and to understand written information.

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Where can I find research on literacy?

We provide free access to our downloadable research reports, which include literature reviews, surveys and programme evaluations.  

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Why is literacy important?

People with good literacy skills are more likely to have:

  • higher self-esteem
  • better health
  • better jobs
  • higher wages

This is because they are more able to take advantage of the opportunities that life may offer them.

Research

Our Literacy Changes Lives report presents overwhelming evidence that literacy, happiness and success are directly related. It gathers existing research on the impact of literacy across five areas:

  • economic well-being
  • aspirations
  • family life
  • health
  • civic/ cultural engagement.

The report gives a clear indication of the dangers of poor literacy and also the benefits of improving literacy for individuals, communities, the workforce and the nation.

Support our work.

More information 

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The National Literacy Trust is a registered charity no. 1116260 and a company limited by guarantee no. 5836486 registered in England and Wales and a registered charity in Scotland no. SC042944.
Registered address: 68 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL.