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At Oxford University Press, we have been researching the issues and creating resources to support children’s reading and language development for decades, working with many leading educational experts as well as talented children’s authors and illustrators. Our ongoing research into the Word Gap, our market-leading support for phonics, our valued work on levelled reading books and our incredible range of children’s picture books, fiction, and non-fiction are just a few examples of our mission to improve language, literacy and reading for pleasure in action.

In the wake of the pandemic – which has disproportionately impacted children from disadvantaged backgrounds – we felt it was more important than ever to understand and overcome some of the barriers to reading for pleasure.

And so, in the autumn of 2022, we launched Raise a Reader: a three-year campaign that builds on our expertise and aims to provide children and young people – and the parents, carers, teachers and communities who support them – with the skills, opportunities, and inspiration they need to become lifelong readers in the wake of the pandemic.

 

What parents and children say

During the summer of 2022, we surveyed 2000 parents of children aged 3-11, over 300 primary school teachers, and more than 1000 children aged 7-11. We wanted to understand the barriers to reading for pleasure and where there might be opportunities.

Our research revealed some very positive attitudes towards reading and a good understanding of its broader benefits. Of the parents and carers surveyed:

However, unsurprisingly, not having enough time in the day was a significant obstacle, as was not being able to establish a regular reading routine. Over a quarter of children (28%) wished their parents read with them more often, while over half of parents (59%) wished they could read more with their children. Other challenges parents found included getting their children to concentrate while reading together and avoiding distractions from screens and gadgets.

 

Teachers need more investment of time and resources to improve reading

With only so many hours in the school day, it is unsurprising that teachers are keen to ensure children spend more time reading at home and for parents to have a shared commitment to improving children’s reading.

Given the challenges and barriers identified by parents, we asked teachers what would make them more satisfied with the way reading is supported in their school. Ensuring that book collections remain relevant and up to date, the need for more staff to help support reading in school, and a better knowledge of books among teachers were all highlighted as important.

Within schools, funding is a challenge, with almost half the teachers saying that they would like more money for books and over a quarter of teachers specifically stating that they would like to see more investment in primary school libraries.

 

Ensuring access to books

For too many children – both in school and at home – one of the main barriers to them reading more for pleasure is simply not having access to enough books. Recent research by the National Literacy Trust has revealed that one in five children don’t own a book, and one in seven primary schools across the UK does not have a library.

Improving access to books is therefore a key ambition of our Raise a Reader campaign. That’s why we took Raise a Reader on the road (literally!) with our book-filled caravan, our incredible staff volunteers, and some of our wonderful authors and illustrators. We visited schools and public locations in areas of England with lower levels of literacy and hosted exciting events aimed at inspiring children to see reading for pleasure as something for everyone.

Oxford University Press (OUP) is also working with the National Literacy Trust (NLT) as a flagship partner of the Primary School Library Alliance, and as part of our commitment to this cause, we recently launched the Oxfordshire Raise a Reader programme. OUP and the NLT are working together in ten schools across Oxfordshire to create dedicated reading spaces and to support teachers in embedding a reading for pleasure culture. Each school has received a donation of 500 books, along with soft furnishings and book storage to set up their reading spaces. Teachers in each school are receiving specialist training to help them develop effective whole-school reading strategies, guide pupils to use the reading spaces, and support parents and carers in engaging with reading at home. We’ll also be working with our authors and illustrators to host exciting reading events at the schools.

So much recent research shows that a national commitment to raising readers has never been more important – both for closing the learning gaps that have widened because of the pandemic and for improving our children’s mental health and wellbeing. It’s vital that children have access to fresh, modern and diverse books and that teachers and parents are supported in providing children with the skills and the opportunities to become lifelong readers. Oxford University Press is passionate about and committed to our Raise a Reader campaign and we hope you will join us.

Visit the Raise a Reader homepage to find out more information. If you are keen to host your own author event at your school you can view the list of Oxford author and illustrators here.

 

For more articles like this, subscribe to Everything Curriculum, our FREE magazine for primary school teachers.

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Author

Andrea Quincey

Director of Primary Literacy
Oxford University Press
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Oxford University Press