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Study provides evidence that reading for pleasure boosts children’s academic performance

11 Sep 2013

Children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers, according to new research from the Institute of Education (IOE).

The IOE study, which is believed to be the first to examine the effect of reading for pleasure on cognitive development over time, found that children who read for pleasure made more progress in maths, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of 10 and 16 than those who rarely read.

Researchers found that children who receive bedtime stories from their parents as infants perform better than those who go without. But reading for pleasure during secondary school had the biggest effect, with books judged to be more important to children’s development at an older age than the influence of their parents. The combined effect on children’s progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree.

The research was conducted by Dr Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown, who analysed the reading behaviour of approximately 6,000 young people being followed by the 1970 British Cohort Study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. They looked at how often the teenagers read during childhood and their test results in maths, vocabulary and spelling at ages 5, 10 and 16.

Dr Sullivan says this study underlines the importance of encouraging children to read – even in the digital age. She said:

There are concerns that young people’s reading for pleasure has declined. There could be various reasons for this, including more time spent in organised activities, more homework, and of course more time spent online. However, new technologies, such as e-readers, can offer easy access to books and newspapers and it is important that government policies support and encourage children’s reading, particularly in their teenage years.

Our Young Readers Programme supports children in disadvantaged communities to read for pleasure. Our Words for Life campaign supports parents with resources and information to encourage their child to read for pleasure.

Read more about the research on the Institute of Education website.

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