Boys fall further behind girls for daily reading amid lockdown, study suggests
By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
Boys have fallen further behind girls at reading regularly and enjoying it during lockdown, a study suggests.
The gender gap in the number of children who say they take pleasure in reading and who read daily appears to have widened, prompting fears that boys could be at “risk of losing out” due to the pandemic.
Greater access to audiobooks at school and home may help re-engage boys with literacy, the report from the National Literacy Trust (NLT) and Puffin says, as findings suggest they are more popular with boys.
Fiona Evans, director of schools programmes at the NLT, has called for more schools to introduce “audio libraries” – and for fathers and grandfathers to be role models – to encourage more reading among boys.
The research, based on surveys of children aged 8 to 18 in the UK before and during lockdown, found that more girls and boys have been reading daily and have said they are enjoying reading while at home.
But the reading enjoyment gap between boys and girls has increased five-fold – from just over a 2 percentage point difference at the start of 2020 to a 11.5 percentage point difference during lockdown.
Three in five girls (60.2%) said they enjoyed reading during lockdown, compared to 48.9% before, but only 48.7% of boys said they enjoyed reading amid the pandemic, compared to 46.6% pre-lockdown.
More girls than boys said they read daily in their free time before the lockdown and this trend has continued, with the gap between boys and girls in terms of their daily reading widening in the past months.
“It remains to be seen whether these changes are sustained or whether a return to school and a degree of known-normality will help boys catch up,” the report concludes.
But slightly more boys (25%) than girls (22.4%) said they had listened to audiobooks more during lockdown, and over half of these boys said audiobooks had made them more interested in reading.
The “cool factor” of audiobooks is likely to have played a part with boys, Ms Evans said, as they can listen on their phone with headphones and do not have to share what they have chosen to read.
Audiobooks that are narrated by well-known actors can also help encourage boys to read, she added.
Ms Evans told the PA news agency that the “power of role models” is really important, and she called on fathers and grandfathers to be “explicit” with boys in their family about what they like to read.
Some children in the study said they enjoyed reading more because their parents were around more during lockdown, while others said they had liked reading stories to their grandparents over video calls during self isolation.
The survey also found that nearly three in five (59%) children said that reading has made them feel better during lockdown and 50% said reading inspired them to dream about the future. Children chose stories of adventure (65%) and comedy (48%) most over the past few months.
Francesca Dow, managing director of publisher Puffin, told PA: “I think a story is both an escape and a form of entertainment and for parents at home with children, books have been one way in which they can help entertain them.”
She added: “Whilst children have been kept inside their homes, they’ve had the opportunity to read more widely and if they can’t travel to places they can at least explore different worlds, meet different characters, connect with some of their favourite characters again by rereading through their books.”
Ms Evans added: “At the moment the use of audio in schools is not as widespread as it could be and lockdown has allowed children and young people to begin reading with audiobooks and that’s something that we would really, really love to see happening again from September in schools.”
“I do think that for both parents and for schools actually increasing the opportunity to access audiobooks would be hugely beneficial for all children, but particularly for boys,” she said.
– 58,346 children aged 9 to 18 in the UK were surveyed between January and mid-March 2020; then 4,141 children aged 8 to 18 were surveyed between May and early June 2020.