Closing the reading gap – A new campaign from BookTrust

Boy, man and girl reading a book together, representing closing the reading gap

A high-profile new campaign from BookTrust aims to tackle inequality through shared stories, explains Lizzie Catford…

Lizzie Catford
by Lizzie Catford
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We need to close the reading gap. The reading enjoyment gap. Until we do, we will never address one of the major inequalities at the heart of our society. 

Children who are read to, experience significant benefits. Listening to stories supports bonding and stimulates brain development and language acquisition, both in and beyond the early years.  

Reading enjoyment comes from sharing stories with trusted adults. From the unique interplay that arises through the shared points of interest and back-and-forth interactions.

As children grow, giving them the freedom to choose books that reflect their lives and interests becomes key. 

Closing the reading gap

Families understand reading is important, but many still struggle to make it a regular part of their day. 95 per cent of families with children under seven know it’s important to read with their child. However, only 42 per cent of children have a bedtime story. 53 per cent of parents and carers of primary-aged children say reading is not a big part of family life.  

At the start of this year, BookTrust launched a major new campaign – Reading Together, Changing Children’s Lives. We’ve created it to help close the reading gap.

The campaign calls for a commitment from Government to long-term investment in books and reading for children. Throughout 2024, we’ll be working hard to make sure children’s reading is a key part of our national debate.

As our president Michael Morpurgo stated when launching the campaign, ”It is not right that children from poorer backgrounds are deprived of a life that is rich in reading.” 

Teachers are important role models in developing children’s attitudes towards reading. 57 per cent of low-income families report that teachers influence how much their children enjoy reading. 

Our work, informed by decades of experience, provides key insights into how teachers can create positive reading behaviours in children as they develop through primary school. 

How to create positive reading behaviours

Make time in the school day for reading to children. Reading aloud in group settings provides many of the same interactions as a one-to-one experience. The reader:

  • shows enthusiasm
  • adapts their pace, emphasis and rhythm in response to the group
  • makes eye contact
  • engages in back-and-forth commentary

Effective family engagement is vital. Around a quarter of parents (26 per cent) with children aged 0 to 7 years find reading with their child challenging.

It’s therefore important to recognise the barriers that will exist for many. Make a big difference by:

  • modelling story sharing
  • being clear that there is no right or wrong way
  • encouraging families to get started

Visit the BookTrust Primary School hub for a short film you can share with families to help get them started.  

High-quality books

Many parents are not confident choosing books for their child and struggle to access reading materials. 23 per cent of low-income children aged four to seven years get books for shared reading from school. For this reason, offering a high-quality range of books for families to choose from together is important.  

Representation matters. Seeing their lives represented in books engages children in reading. Promote inclusive books that represent characters from wide-ranging backgrounds and perspectives. For recommendations, sign up to the monthly BookTrust newsletter or visit our Bookfinder tool. 

Remove barriers for children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage by providing access to books and resources for their home environment. We’ve designed BookTrust’s Letter Box Club with these children in mind. 68 per cent of LetterBox Club children tell us they are reading more on their own as a result of their monthly book parcels. 

Championing teachers

As we continue to campaign to change children’s lives through listening to stories and reading for pleasure, we will champion teachers’ role in delivering these vital experiences. We’ll also push for greater support, resources and recognition for this work.

Lizzie Catford is BookTrust’s director of children’s books. Follow on X at @Booktrust.  Sign up to the newsletter to find out how you can get involved.

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