Research reveals startlingly high numbers of boys and girls have no books of their own, with worrying implications for their future prospects.

Dan Gould
  • 1 june 2011

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This article titled “Three in 10 UK children ‘own no books'” was written by Alison Flood, for on Wednesday 1st June 2011 11.56 UTC

Three in 10 children in the UK do not own a single book of their own, with alarming implications for their future prospects, according to new research. The survey by the National Literacy Trust also shows that boys are less likely to own books than girls.

The survey of 18,141 young people found that four in 10 boys did not own any books, compared to three in 10 girls. Children who did not own books were two-and-a-half times more likely (19%) to read below their expected level than children who had their own books (7.6%), and were also significantly less likely (35.7%) to read above their expected level than book-owning children (54.9%). The online survey took place in November and December last year, with the majority of participants aged between 11 and 13 years old.

“People tend to think that literacy is an international development issue, [but] actually we have got massive literacy problems in this country,” said Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust. “To be brutally honest we weren’t expecting [the number of children without their own books] to be so high. We know that book ownership in this country is really strongly linked to literacy issues and social mobility.”

The research found that “at a crude brushstroke”, young people who do have books of their own are more likely to be girls, socio-economically better off, from white or mixed ethnic backgrounds and without a special educational need.

Douglas described the finding that boys are less likely to own books than girls as “part of a really worrying trend which has emerged particularly strongly in the last decade”. “We are working with the Premier League and with anyone with a strong reach into boys’ imaginations,” he said. “It is a massive issue. Parents are more likely to buy books as presents if their child is a girl, mums are more likely to be seen reading than dads. It is impacting on boys’ literacy levels – we know they are lagging behind girls significantly. It is strongly evident by 11 but emerges earlier. That lower level of literacy for boys is pulling down their achievement in all levels of the curriculum.”

Children who don’t own books “are less likely to have positive experiences of reading, less likely to do well at school and less likely to be engaged in reading in any form,” according to the research. “It is not a case of books being irrelevant now technology has superseded printed matter,” wrote the National Literacy Trust’s researchers Christina Clark and Lizzie Poulton. “Children with no books of their own are less likely to be sending emails, reading websites or engaging with their peers through the written word on social networking sites. Children who grow up without books and without positive associations around reading are at a disadvantage in the modern world.”

Douglas stressed that there was “no point at which it is too early” to support children in learning to love books. “It is not just something which starts the first day of a child’s schooling,” he said. “Don’t think it is basically up to the school to get a child reading. Everyone the child has contact with – parent, uncle, aunt, grandparent – has an active role to play in terms of supporting literacy.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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