Many parents failing to read to children, survey shows

More than half of primary teachers say they have seen at least one child with no experience of being told stories at home

Many children are starting school having never been read a story, a survey reveals today.

More than half of primary teachers have seen a least one child begin formal education with no experience of being told stories at home. Teachers said the stories pupils did know often seemed to come from watching Disney cartoons.

One literacy expert branded the findings a "national disaster", warning that such children were at risk of being left behind at school and failing to develop the creative talents needed to lead happy and productive lives.

Pie Corbett, who acts as an educational adviser to the government, said too many children were left to watch TV instead of being read a bedtime story, often by busy middle-class parents.

Corbett said: "This isn't just an economic thing – it's not just people who come from poor backgrounds, it's across the whole of society. You get a lot of children coming from very privileged backgrounds who've spent a lot of time in front of the TV and not enough time snuggled up with a good book. The TV does the imagining for you – and it doesn't care whether you're listening or not."

Research shows that children who are read to on a regular basis before they start school are most likely to succeed. "It's a key predictor in terms of educational success," said Corbett.

Being told stories boosts language and, by feeding the child's imagination, develops abstract thought.

"Children who are told stories are the ones who first form abstract concepts across the curriculum – in other words, being read to makes you brainy," Corbett said. "The best writers in the class are always those who are avid readers." He said parents needed to get the message that reading really matters. "It may be parents have lost faith with this idea, but education is a way out of poverty."

Reading levels have improved in recent years, but attainment in writing has not kept up. Nearly two-thirds of the 300 teachers questioned by Oxford University Press said children were less able to tell stories in writing than 10 years ago.

One teacher responding to the survey said: "Where are all the parents who sing and recite nursery rhymes to their children? We have created a generation who are failing to give their children the phonological start they need to become a capable reader."

Another said: "There are children who have had very few stories read to them and I notice that now many do not know the traditional fairy tales – beyond Walt Disney cartoons that is."


Rachel Williams

The GuardianTramp

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