June 4, 2024

Reading recession? Study of more than 1.2 million students reveals children are reading less than last year

But they are turning to books to find more representative and aspirational role models

  • UK-wide study from Renaissance reveals a 4.4% decrease in the number of books read by pupils year-on-year
  • Decline in reading hits Year 9s, with secondary school pupils reading at the same level as primary pupils, but increasing daily reading time could offer significant improvements in attainment
  • Children search for more representative and aspirational role models, as books by Marcus Rashford, Maria Isabel Sanchez and Bryan Patrick Avery top the reading charts

The annual ‘What Kids Are Reading Report’, a study of over 1.2 million pupils across the UK and Ireland from leading edtech provider, Renaissance, shows a 4.4% year-on-year decrease in the number of books being read by children from Year 1 to Year 11.

For the last 16 years, the report has tracked the book-reading habits of the nation’s pupils, and this is the first time, outside of the first year of the pandemic, there has been a decline in the number of books read since research began in 2008. 26,114,262 books were read by 1,273,795 pupils in the 2022-2023 academic year[1] compared to 27,265,657 by 1,282,647 pupils in the previous academic year[2].

The downturn in book reading echoes similar findings in declining reading attainment shown in longitudinal research[3] on post-pandemic learning recovery from Renaissance and the Educational Policy Institute (EPI). Additional research[4] from Renaissance and GL Assessment shows teachers believe a third (33%) of their pupils are weak readers and that children are struggling to keep up with the curriculum due to their reading ability. A quarter (26%) of pupils are taken out of class for reading support with, on average, half a day of curriculum time per week given to helping students read.

Secondary reading slump, but more reading time leads to higher attainment

Reading decline is particularly acute in secondary schools. The report finds that primary school pupils read harder books as they get older, but during secondary school there is a downturn, particularly from Year 9, with many secondary students reading books at a similar difficulty level to those of upper primary pupils.

Pupils read progressively more challenging books until Year 6, which then plateaus until Year 9 before a sharp drop in the difficulty of books being read by older secondary students. Pupils in primary schools also consistently showed a higher quality of comprehension when reading.

However, the research also confirms the link between more reading time in school with higher reading attainment. When considering Engaged Reading Time (ERT) and Cumulative Number of Words Read (see Figure 3), we see further evidence of the impact of the time spent reading – the more time is allocated to reading, the greater the number of words read, with the biggest gains occurring when ERT exceeds 30 minutes per day.

Additionally presented in the What Kids Are Reading report are findings from a survey[5] of 71,351 pupils by the National Literacy Trust (NLT). With these figures showing a 26% decrease in the number of children reading daily in their free time since 2005, time devoted to reading in the classroom is more important than ever. NLT data shows pupils’ enjoyment of reading in their free time at the lowest level since 2005 and is lowest among those receiving free school meals (39.5%) compared to those who don’t (43.8%).

Reading role models: favourite books 2024

The What Kids Are Reading report reveals trends and pupils’ attitudes towards popular authors and books. Alongside popular fantasy and light-hearted fiction, this year’s New Entrants to the list of children’s favourite/most read authors/books showed a trend in children turning to books to find more representative and aspirational role models.

Footballer turned author Marcus Rashford is an inspiring role model, well-known for his advocacy and work for free school meals. His book series, The Breakfast Club Adventures, draws on his own experiences at breakfast clubs and the support they provided to him and his family growing up. Another new entrant to the top list, Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara’s Little People, BIG DREAMS series focuses on leading lights through history, from Marie Curie to Frida Kahlo. And Bryan Patrick Avery’s Black Men in Science focuses on Black men in history who have contributed to scientific developments.

The What Kids Are Reading Report was written using Renaissance data analysed by Professor Keith Topping from the University of Dundee. Commenting on the overall decline in reading: “There are a number of possible reasons for the decline, but the high number of pupils persistently absent from school post-Covid is likely to be the biggest factor. This is especially true in secondary school as these pupils are more likely to be weaker readers.


The key takeaway from this report is that more reading practice at an appropriate level of difficulty improves pupils’ reading performance, with more reading time in school leading to higher reading attainment. This has a knock-on impact on academic performance across the board. Focusing on comprehension and finding books they genuinely love will benefit pupils within and beyond the classroom. Schools and parents can support students by encouraging them to read often and consume more challenging books.”


Crispin Chatterton, former teacher and Director of Education at Renaissance, commented,

“Despite the dip in overall reading levels, there is still much to celebrate in terms of the depth and breadth of the books being read across the UK, Ireland and beyond. The What Kids Are Reading report identifies which books and authors are most engaging pupils. This is vital information for teachers to ensure pupils are reading books they really enjoy. When reading for pleasure, pupils are more likely to pay close attention to the content and it encourages a love of reading which stretches beyond their school years.


“It’s great to see children turning to books to find more representative and aspirational role models in this year’s report. We hope this means all children can see themselves reflected in the literature they consume, and that reading can support the development of a more inclusive and understanding society.”


Kay Tinsley, Director of Teaching and Learning at The Kemnal Academies Trust, said, “Many parents and teachers I speak to want to see their children reading more and enjoying their time spent with books. My advice is to read aloud, when possible, to enhance fluency and integrate this practice into the curriculum and home routine.


“It is crucial that children’s reading is accurately and regularly assessed to understand their abilities and tackle any challenges to learning. This is where Renaissance and GL Assessment solutions are a massive help. Accelerated Reader, myON, Star Reading and the New Group Reading Test help identify those children that have fallen behind and allow us to put remedies in place.”

Access the ‘What Kids Are Reading’ 2024 report here: www.whatkidsarereading.co.uk

– ENDS –

For more information contact Kat McCamley – Kat.McCamley@four.agency / 07384 525276 or Imogen Dunn imogen.dunn@four.agency / 07384 525 249

Notes to Editors

The What Kids Are Reading report 2024 summarises findings from 1,273,795 pupils who read 26,114,262 books in the 2022-2023 academic year.

The ‘Turning the page’ nationwide survey among over 600 primary and secondary teachers looked at attitudes to teaching reading.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in education technology, Renaissance is committed to providing schools and school groups with insights and resources to accelerate learning and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Its assessment portfolio (which now include assessments from GL Assessment) offer the ideal starting point to help schools understand their students’ strengths, pinpoint areas of need, and put targeted measures in place. Meanwhile, its teaching and learning programmes and personalised practice solutions provide effective next steps to drive better student outcomes. https://uk.renaissance.com/

About the What Kids Are Reading report

  • The 16th Annual What Kids Are Reading Report examines the book-reading habits of pupils in British and Irish schools.
  • The What Kids Are Reading report 2024 summarises findings from 1,273,795 pupils who read 26,114,262 books in the 2022-2023 academic year.
  • Data from Renaissance’s Accelerated Reader software – a quiz-based, personalised reading practice program, Star Reading – the Renaissance computer-based norm-referenced reading test, based on the national curriculum – and myON – a teaching and learning platform featuring enhanced digital books and daily news articles.
  • The research was conducted by Keith Topping, Professor of Educational and Social Work Research at the University of Dundee School of Education.
  • The National Literacy Trust segment of the report, provided by Dr Christina Clark, Head of Research, and Irene Picton, Research Manager, is based on a survey of 71,351 children and young people aged 5 to 183 from 285 schools who participated in an online survey in early 2023


[1] Renaissance’s What Kids Are Reading Report 2024

[2] Renaissance’s What Kids Are Reading Report 2023

[3] Education Policy Institute and Renaissance’s Understand Student Progress with Star Assessments Report 2024

[4] GL Assessment and Renaissance’s Turning the Page Report 2024

[5] National Literacy Trust – Children and young people’s reading in 2023

Share this post