Is There a Reading Recession?

In recent years, a significant decline in children’s reading for pleasure has become increasingly evident. The What Kids Are Reading Report 2024 recently released by Renaissance, alongside the National Literacy Trust’s annual survey, paints a concerning picture: fewer books are being read and children’s overall engagement and enjoyment of reading are at their lowest levels in nearly two decades.

Dissecting the Data: What’s happening?

The annual What Kids Are Reading Report has shown a 4.4% decrease in the number of books read by pupils year-on-year, with a significant drop observed in secondary schools. Over sixteen years, this report tracked the book-reading habits of approximately 1.2 million students across the UK and Ireland, marking the first decline in reading consumption since 2008.

The National Literacy Trust’s survey reveals similarly alarming statistics. Only 43.4% of 18-year-olds reported enjoying reading in their free time, the lowest since 2005. This decline is particularly sharp among girls, traditionally more engaged readers than boys. Furthermore, the percentage of children reading daily dropped from 38% in 2005 to 28% in 2023.

While these reports may possess their own biases and limitations, they are valuable indicators of the challenges we face and reflect a reality observed by myself and many educators.

Driving the Downturn: Why is this happening?

Several factors play their part, ranging from those we can provide strategies to solve to those that exist on deeper societal levels, which, unfortunately, teachers cannot address alone.

Firstly, the influence of technology cannot be overlooked. Children are growing up in a fast-paced and overwhelmingly digital world dominated by electronic devices, where immediate access to information and instant gratification from scrolling screens, social media and streaming services often outcompete the act of reading books for their attention. However, I must clarify that I’m not entirely against technology, as it can also be a powerful tool to promote reading through e-books, reading apps, virtual author visits and online reading communities.

Moreover, limited access to books contributes to the issue and this is only further compounded by government funding cuts which affect schools and communities greatly, leading to the closure of libraries at a rapid rate. This reduction in resources not only limits availability of books but also deprives students of essential spaces for exploration, social connection and community engagement. Libraries offer more than just books; they provide a wide range of services and serve as the hubs and lifeblood of our communities. It is crucial that we prioritise their role and support their position in society by using them or face losing them for good.

Furthermore, I’m acutely aware of how the educational systems we work within and the curriculums themselves can also be part of the problem in discouraging and deterring reading. With a focus on meeting requirements and testing, reading can easily become just another task, rather than being seen as a source of enjoyment and in the rush of a school day to cover a congested curriculum, it can even be pushed aside or forgotten altogether in some settings.

Combatting the Decline: Strategies for Teachers

Therefore, dealing with this decline requires a multi-layered approach, rooted in reigniting a love for reading and making it a central part of children’s lives. While there are lots of strategies teachers can put into place, I’ll highlight my top three here. If you’re interested in exploring more, you can find many more in my book, 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Reading for Pleasure.

Creating and Continuing a Reading Culture: Building a school-wide ethos and environment that celebrates reading in all forms can make a significant difference. This can be achieved by incorporating daily reading time, ensuring classrooms and libraries are stocked with diverse selections of books and providing opportunities for students to discuss their reading. This takes time, effort and commitment so patience is key and overnight success should not be expected.

Choice and Relevance: Encouraging students to select their own reading material can significantly boost engagement. When students read books that reflect their interests and experiences, they are more likely to find joy in reading.

Model Reading: Teachers who are enthusiastic about reading can inspire their students. Sharing your own reading experiences, talking about books you love and reading aloud to them can demonstrate the value and pleasure of reading. Providing parents with resources to support reading at home can also help to extend your reading culture beyond the school gates.

Collaborative Efforts to Combatting the Decline

Publishers: The What Kids Are Reading Report notes that secondary students are reading books with “similar difficulty” to those in upper primary school. While perceptions of “difficulty” can be subjective, this suggests a potential shortage of books being published for Key Stage 3 students that bridge the gap between middle-grade and young adult and is something that has attracted attention in the publishing industry recently with calls for publishers to produce more.

Retailers: The report also highlights the need for students to read more widely. Popular titles often dominate students’ reading choices, which, while encouraging reading, can limit exposure to the discovering of different genres and perspectives. Supermarkets, bookshops and other retailers have a vital opportunity to expand readers’ horizons by allocating shelf space to a broader range of books and authors. By offering only familiar choices, they perpetuate narrow preferences and a greater focus on promoting greater equity and diversity benefits everyone.

Government: With the report revealing young people spend less time reading, the next government must step up to not only provide but also protect financial support to counteract this and ensure that all school and public libraries are well-equipped with a diverse range of books and trained librarians who can actively encourage reading among students.


The decline in children’s reading underscores the need for a united effort from all stakeholders. By taking these steps, we can change these trends and bring back the joy of reading for them, not just for school success but also their personal growth. Ultimately, their futures depend on it.

Scott Evans
Scott Evans

Scott Evans is a Primary school teacher, author and reading for pleasure adviser

Find him on X: @MrEPrimary

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