Reluctant readers: The girls who don't enjoy reading

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The conversation around reluctant readers often focuses on boys, but new research is warning that high numbers of girls also do not enjoying reading.

In fact, 44 per cent of girls aged eight to 18 say that they do not enjoy reading according to a research report published by the National Literacy Trust (Picton et al, 2021).

Entitled Forgotten Girls, the report draws upon a survey of more than 21,000 girls and finds that 10 per cent of those aged eight to 18 do not read at all in their free time.

It warns too that 19 per cent of those aged six to 14 can be classed as struggling with their reading skills.

It comes as other research shows that reading for pleasure out of school is a major contributing factor to success in school and in later life (British Land, 2021).

The latest research is based on data from more than 21,000 girls as part of the National Literacy Trust’s Annual Literacy Survey as well as data from 286,000 reading assessments via the Star Reading test and the Accelerated Reader platform.

It finds that while struggling girl readers, on average, spent less time reading than non-struggling peers, the number of books read by struggling girl readers was virtually equal to the number read by their peers who don’t struggle.

However, the books read by struggling girl readers were generally of a lower level of difficulty and struggling girl readers were also found to read fewer words overall than their peers.

Elsewhere, the report finds that while 35 per cent of eight to 11-year-old girls said they don’t enjoy reading, this increases to 46 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds. In addition, more girls who receive free school meals (FSMs) said that they don’t enjoy reading (48 vs 43 per cent).

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of the reluctant readers in the survey said they struggle to find reading material that matches their interests. And 39 per cent of the girls who don't enjoy reading said that it was difficult to find books with characters or people who are like them.

The report warns: “A wealth of studies and reports indicate that boys perform less well in reading assessments and report lower reading enjoyment than girls, and this is a global phenomenon. This can contribute to a general perception that girls must be more ‘naturally’ inclined towards reading, which in turn may obscure the significant number of girls who dislike, or struggle with, reading.

“Comments from both girls and teachers suggest that improving access to diverse reading materials featuring relatable characters (such as positive female role models from a range of ethnic backgrounds) can be transformative for reluctant girl readers. In addition, data from Renaissance’s tests and platforms suggest that finding ways to increase girls’ daily reading time may support reading skills.

“Overall, this report shows that the discussion around reluctant girl readers is complex. Girls read, or don’t read, for a multitude of reasons, and so one solution will not fit all. Future initiatives should aim to promote reading in a way that reflects this complexity, understanding that different motivations will work for different girls.”


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