Govt says children ‘too busy’ to read

The government has urged parents to enthuse children about books after a global comparison shows British schoolchildren are reading less than five years ago.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) shows England has fallen from 3rd to 19th place in a global league of reading among ten-year-olds.

Although the lowest achievers are reading more, a significant drop in the brightest children’s performance has been blamed for declining progress since 2001.

The results show British children are less likely than their international peers to read for pleasure, instead spending one of the largest proportions of time playing computer games.

Nearly two in five ten-year-olds said they played computer games for more than three hours a day.

Ed Balls said children have more choice about how they spend their leisure time but schools and parents should do more to promote reading for pleasure.

He called on parents to make reading as much a part of their child’s daily routine as having a bath or brushing their teeth.

But the schools secretary said children should be reading “because they love it” and not because their parents or teachers have made them.

The Conservatives said the report highlighted serious flaws in the government’s literacy strategy, with independent assessments repeatedly contradicting the government’s claim to be driving up standards.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said: “We are falling dangerously behind other countries and we know that those from the poorest backgrounds are suffering most.

“It’s time the government stopped blaming parents and accepted the case we’ve been making for a new focus on teaching reading using tried and tested methods, with a test after two years in primary school to ensure our children are being taught properly.”

Mr Balls said the government has brought in phonics across the primary curriculum, as well as introducing one-to-one tuition and small group sessions for children needing extra help.

He added: “PIRLS shows that it’s our more confident readers who need more encouragement from parents to read in their free time; it’s outside school and in children’s attitudes where we have seen more changes since 2001.”

Describing the report as “depressing reading,” the Liberal Democrats said it showed the government’s strategies to increase reading have so far been ineffectual.

Schools spokesman David Laws said: “Despite the success of books like Harry Potter, there is still a worryingly large group of our young people who have absolutely no interest in reading.”

He urged schools and parents to breed excitement about books, not just teach children how to read and write.