Literacy: One in 15 pupils do not have a book at home

As many as 500,000 children do not have a book of their own at home, with dire consequences for their literacy development.

National Literacy Trust (NLT) figures show that one in 15 students aged eight to 18 do not own a book.

This rises to one in 10 children from disadvantaged backgrounds, a figure that has gotten worse since last year (when it was one in 11).

Furthermore, one in three children on free school meals have fewer than 10 books at home, compared to one in five of their peers.

The charity has launched a Christmas appeal to raise funds to get books into the hands of children who need them most and to raise literacy levels in the poorest communities.

The research covers England, Scotland and Wales and involved more than 62,000 children and young people.

Previous NLT research shows that children who have books at home are six times more likely to read above the expected level for their age (22% vs 3.6%).

Furthermore, the new research shows that only 32.6% children and young people with fewer than 10 books at home say that they enjoy reading, compared with 61.4% of those with 50 or more books at home.

The research also shows a regional divide in book ownership in England, with children living in Yorkshire and the Humber the least likely to have a book of their own at home, followed by the West Midlands.

The highest rates of book ownership are seen in London and the South West.

The report states: “Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds experienced the greatest learning loss in reading over the pandemic, and national tests and assessments have further indicated a widening attainment gap between them and their more-advantaged peers. It is essential that increasing book ownership is included as part of efforts to support this group of children, allowing them the same opportunities as their peers to enjoy reading their own books at home.”

Research published by the Department for Education shows that as of the autumn term 2021, primary-aged pupils were, on average, 0.8 months behind where we would have expected them to be in reading due to the impact of the pandemic – secondary-aged pupils were, on average, 2.4 months behind (DfE, 2022).

And the disadvantage gap is widening. By the autumn term in 2021, the gap in learning loss between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers in reading was around 0.9 months for primary-aged pupils and around 1.5 months for secondary-aged pupils. This is on top of existing attainment gaps pre-pandemic (DfE, 2022).

A key part of the NLT’s work includes interventions in 17 areas of the UK which face the biggest literacy and poverty challenges. The charity works with teachers, families and others to reach those children who need most literacy support in these areas.

The NLT also publishes a range of resources to support reading and literacy in schools (see further information).

Jonathan Douglas, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Being able to share a story with your child at Christmas time is something every family should be able to do. The fact that half a million children across the country might not have that option is devastating, and the absence of books in the home will have a knock-on effect for the rest of a child’s life.

“Reading and books don’t just give children and families these treasured moments together, they also build the key literacy skills that children need to succeed.”