One in six children are failing to read books as they spend an increasing amount of time texting friends, sending emails and searching Facebook and Twitter, research suggests.
Children who fail to read at a young age risk turning into illiterate adults, said the National Literacy Trust.
By Graeme Paton
Schoolchildren are more likely to be exposed to mobile phones and computers than novels outside school, it was revealed.
Researchers also found that reading frequency declined sharply with age, with 14- to 16-year-olds being more than 10 times as likely to shun books altogether as those in primary education.
The findings, in a study by the National Literacy Trust, follows the publication of a major international league table last year that showed reading standards among children in Britain had slipped from 17th to 25th in the world.
Jonathan Douglas, the trust’s director, warned that people who failed to read books at a young age often suffered serious literacy problems in adulthood.
“We are worried that they will grow up to be the one-in-six adults who struggle with literacy to the extent that they read to the level expected of an 11-year-old or below,” he said. “Getting these children reading and helping them to love reading is the way to turn their lives around and give them new opportunities and aspirations.”
The trust surveyed more than 18,000 children aged eight to 17 across the UK.
It found that 13 per cent of children failed to read a single book in the last month.
The study said that “technology-based materials dominate as reading choices”, with text messages being named as the most popular form of reading material for children of all ages, followed by emails and social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Bebo.
Researchers said “reading frequency declines with age”, particularly when children leave primary school at 11.
In the last few years of primary education, children are almost six times more likely to be classed as prolific readers – finishing 10 books – than those in secondary schools, it was revealed.
Older pupils were also “considerably more likely to say that they have not read any book in the last month compared with their younger counterparts”.
The study said: “While this rather large discrepancy can at least partly be explained by [secondary] pupils choosing to read texts other than fiction/non-fiction books, the books they read are also more likely to be longer, to be more complex.”
The findings came after Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, called on all pupils to read 50 books a year as part of a national drive to improve literacy standards,
He said children should complete the equivalent of about a novel a week and that the academic demands placed on English schoolchildren had been “too low for too long”.
Ministers have already outlined plans to introduce a reading test for children in England at the age of six to identify those struggling to read at the start of primary school.
*The vast majority of parents are opposed to the use of lotteries to award school places, according to the British Social Attitudes survey.
Only eight per cent believe random ballots should be used as a tiebreaker during the admissions process, it emerged.
The findings – presented as part of the survey, which tracks the opinions of around 2,000 adults – comes despite continued Government support for lottery systems.
Ministers have banned “area-wide” lotteries in which places at all schools in a certain town or city are distributed using the process, but they have refused to stop the system being used by individual schools.