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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 December, 2003, 14:15 GMT
Children more confident readers
Primary school
Primary school pupils are better readers than five years ago
Children have become more confident readers, following the government's emphasis on improving literacy.

But research also suggests that children are enjoying reading less than they did five years ago when the "literacy strategy" was introduced.

The findings are from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) which has examined attitudes to reading among primary pupils.

Boys in particular have shown a decline in interest in reading for pleasure.

The survey looked at how nine and 11 year olds felt about reading - and compared this to similar questions asked at the outset of the literacy strategy in 1998.

'Significant improvement'

In response to concerns about declining standards of literacy among pupils, the government made an improvement in reading and writing a centrepiece of its efforts in primary schools.

This has now been running for five years - and the NFER's research suggests there has been a "significant improvement" in children's confidence and independence as readers.

It observes that primary pupils in England now have reading skills which compare well with pupils in other developed countries.

But there have been complaints from teachers who have claimed that the focus on literacy has been at the expense of creativity and more imaginative learning.

And the research says that there has been a decline in the number of children enjoying reading - with boys showing the sharpest drop in interest.

Fewer children read at home to an adult than five years ago, there are fewer trips to the library and more watching of television.

Less pleasure

Although putting the "decline" in interest into context, the research says there is still a substantial majority of pupils who like to read stories.

The NFER's principal researcher, Marian Sainsbury, says that the survey gives a chance to look at the changes in pupils' attitudes since the introduction of the literacy strategy.

And although it was not possible to make direct connections, there had been a contrasting picture of increased ability and reduced enthusiasm.

"We know from national results and international studies that primary school children in England are good at reading, and their increased levels of confidence and independence are probably a direct reflection of this," said Dr Sainsbury.

"On the other hand, enjoyment levels have declined. We have no direct evidence from this survey of the reasons for the change, and they may relate to broader shifts in children's interests over the last five years.

"But it is possible that this is also related to the drive to improve standards. Children are learning skills, reading material that has usually been chosen by the teacher rather than the children themselves.

"There may have been less emphasis on the sheer pleasure to be gained from books. Current guidance to teachers places great stress on fostering this enthusiasm and enjoyment and we are planning to repeat this survey every two years from now on, to track any changes in the future."

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