Around 1.5 million children will have left primary school unable to “read well” by 2025 if urgent action is not taken to tackle the issue, according to research.
It warns that progress in improving children’s reading levels has been too slow in the past, with poor youngsters most at risk of being left behind.
The study has been published by a group of leading charities, teachers, parents and businesses, which is launching a new campaign to ensure that by 2025, all pupils are reading to a good standard at age 11.
Reading with a child for just 10 minutes a day – even reading from the back of a cereal packet – can make a difference, the group suggested.
Dame Julia Cleverdon, chairwoman of the Read On. Get On. coalition said it was shameful that thousands of youngsters leave primary school unable to read well enough to enjoy reading, and “tragic and unfair” that youngsters from the most disadvantaged homes are the least likely to read well at age 11.
“While many schools and communities have made good progress in helping children read well in recent years, if we continue as we currently are, we will still fall a long way short of all children reading well by the age of 11 by 2025,” the study says.
“Business as usual is not an option. It would leave another generation of low-income pupils with curtailed life chances and restricted horizons.”
The coalition’s analysis of government figures for England concludes if the same rate of progress in reading seen over the last 10 years continues, by 2025 almost one in five youngsters will still not be reading well.
It suggests over the next decade, tens of thousands of children could reach age 11 each year without being able to “read well”, meaning that they cannot read books such as J. K Rowling’s Potter novels or Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island.
Youngsters who cannot read well at age 11 also struggle to understand the wider meaning behind stories and information, and may not be able to read a range of materials, such as magazines and newspapers, websites, letters and dictionaries, the coalition said.
“In terms of overall numbers of children who would have reached the age of 11 without a solid foundation in reading, even on the more optimistic scenario between 2013 and 2025 close to 1.5 million children would have reached the age of 11 without being able to read well,” the report warns.
“This gives an indication of the scale of the challenge we face – and the potential injustice for children – if we do not raise our ambitions.”
In a foreword to the report, Dame Julia said: “In Britain primary education for children has been compulsory for at least the last 150 years.
“Yet to our shame, thousands of children leave primary school each year unable to read well enough to enjoy reading and to do it for pleasure, despite the best efforts of teachers around the country.”
Children living in poverty are less likely to be able to read well at school than their classmates, the report says, adding that while there has been some progress in the last decade this has been too slow and more must be done.
It claims that currently, two in five poorer youngsters are not reading well by age 11, nearly double the rate of their richer classmates.
The gender gap in reading in England is one of the widest in the developed world, the coalition says, with boys twice as likely to fall below even a very basic reading level.
Dame Julia said: “It is tragic and unfair that children from the poorest families and the most deprived communities are least likely to read well at the age of 11 in the UK – one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
“This vital long-term campaign with broad based energetic support aims to make a life-changing difference for both children in poverty and for our society.”
The campaign is calling for parents to be supported to read with young children for 10 minutes a day, and for the public to volunteer to read with disadvantaged children.
It is also urging all political parties to support the 2025 target.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “I wholeheartedly endorse this campaign and its goal to get all children reading well by 2025. Eradicating illiteracy and innumeracy is central to our plan for education and that plan is working.
“As a result of our reforms and the dedication of teachers the literacy gap between children from lower income families and their better off peers has narrowed and thousands more children are leaving primary school able to read and write, so that they can go on to get jobs and build a better future.
“However, we know there is more to do which is why our new curriculum has a greater focus on reading and encourages children to read widely for pleasure so they can develop a real love of literature.
“This brilliant campaign will help us all to make a real difference to the lives of millions of children and I hope that the whole country will get behind it.”
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, said: “Every child a reader – that is a most basic national ambition.
“But David Cameron’s schools policy is taking education standards backwards, with the education attainment gap – the difference between disadvantaged pupils and the rest – on the rise.
“Many parents will be staggered to learn that his government has changed the rules, allowing unqualified teachers to be recruited to work in schools on a permanent basis, leading to a 16 per cent increase in the last year alone.
“Teaching children to read requires skilled teachers, those who have mastered the craft of teaching children how to read.
“Labour will end this damaging policy, ensuring that all teachers become qualified. It’s crucial if we are to ensure every child leaves primary school a proficient reader.”