Blaise Tapp: Reading crisis needs to be top of Prime Minister's agenda

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Step into most middle class homes and it won’t take you long to find a conspicuous hoard of books.

Blaise Tapp writes: Some people make their bookshelves the centrepiece of the living room - leaving visitors in little doubt that theirs is a highly literate household and, if you are particularly paranoid, like me, you could be forgiven for thinking they were simply showing off.

In our gaff it is the works of authors such as David Walliams, Julia Donaldson and JK Rowling that take pride of place in our children’s bedrooms, although I would be lying if I were to say that reading is their favourite pastime.

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As has been the case for recent generations of parents, encouraging the little darlings of today to choose a hardback over a gadget can feel like involving oneself in Middle East peace talks. It’s tricky.

READING CRISIS: Some 11-year-olds have a reading age of six. Photo: Getty ImagesREADING CRISIS: Some 11-year-olds have a reading age of six. Photo: Getty Images
READING CRISIS: Some 11-year-olds have a reading age of six. Photo: Getty Images

But, partly thanks to more than a little dogged perseverance during years of sometimes painful bedtime story sessions, our two are, thankfully, reading to the appropriate level for their respective ages. Yes, we would like them to voluntarily pick up a book a little more often, but neither struggle to read.

Sadly, that isn’t the case for millions of British children and the fear is that this situation isn’t improving.

Reports at the weekend warned of a reading crisis due to increasing numbers of 11-year-olds beginning secondary school with the reading age of a child five years younger.

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Naturally, the pandemic is getting the blame with some experts saying that, after a string of lockdowns and months away from the classroom over the past two years, children have become accustomed to whiling away the hours in front of a screen.

At the last count, 200,000 children, one in five, start secondary school without having reached the expected reading standard and the fear is that this figure will continue to increase. How many of these children come from homes where money is tight is not immediately clear but not every child is fortunate enough to live in a home full of books or have parents with the time or ability to sit and read with them at night.

The problem of poor literacy isn’t something that many families can solve on their own, this ought to be at the very top of the Prime Minister’s in-tray.

Kids have suffered due to two years of uncertainty and missing large chunks of school, months that cannot be replaced with online modules and Zoom calls. The legacy of school closures will live on for a generation because in many cases parents were either unable to give the time or lacked the ability to help their youngsters with their schoolwork. Understandably, screens became digital babysitters for many kids during lockdown and that habit has stuck for many.

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It isn’t just children who have grown out of the habit of turning pages to wind down - I have at least half a dozen books that I’ve acquired in the past two years that remain unread due to the fact that my mobile phone and Netflix provide me with instant gratification.

But for my family and I, the option for us to pick up a book whenever we feel like it is there, but that isn’t necessarily the case for millions of Brits. This is a national scandal and we should be more annoyed about children not being able to read and write than we are about almost anything else.

Schools and parents need more help and only our leaders can provide it.