Post-pandemic, six in 10 primary school classrooms have no access to new books

  • On the 25th World Book Day, a new report reveals over a third (38 per cent) of  teachers are having to buy books for their classrooms themselves
  • Nearly half the teachers (48 per cent) questioned said they are unable to change the books in their classroom during the school year
  • There are still 400,000 children in the UK who don’t have a book of their own[1]

As the charity World Book Day, which changes lives through a love of books and shared reading, celebrates the past, present and future of reading on its 25th birthday, new research from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) brings to light the urgent need to prioritise reading for pleasure and give children access to a wider range of books, following the universal disruption to education by the Covid-19 pandemic.


The CLPE Reading for Pleasure 2022 report highlights a number of urgent challenges schools are facing in helping children discover a love for reading, which is the biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or their income (OECD)[2]. The CLPE research reveals that a quarter (25 per cent) of schools have fewer books now than before the pandemic, while more than 60 per cent of classrooms have no access to a budget for new books.


It is falling to teachers to plug the gap themselves, with almost two in five (38 per cent) of teachers in England providing new books for their pupils out of their own pocket, as historically small school budgets continue to be constrained post-pandemic. 17 per cent of teachers rely on donations in order to update their book stock, while 8 per cent say they never get new books at all in their classrooms.

Nearly half the teachers (48 per cent) questioned said they are unable to change the books in their classroom during the school year, meaning the opportunity for children to discover new books and explore their tastes and interests is severely limited.


While the majority of primary school teachers questioned (95 per cent) said they have a book corner in their classrooms, over half of these (57 per cent) contain fewer than 100 books.  This rises to 84 per cent of classrooms in early years foundation stage (pre-school and Reception) and 73 per cent of classrooms in Year 1.


This is particularly damaging for children whose circumstances mean that they do not have access to books at home and whose reading progress is likely to have been affected adversely by lockdowns. Schools need a wide selection of books to support children to discover and develop a love of reading.


This comes at a time when The Department for Education’s own data shows that over a quarter of 11-year-olds were not reaching the expected standard in reading before the pandemic, and The Centre for Education and Youth’s research – alongside that of other organisations – shows that the pandemic has likely made this worse.


With reading for pleasure among children still at concerning levels – only half of children (51 per cent) say they enjoy reading (National Literary Trust Annual Literacy Report, 2021) – Access to a range of reading books is essential for a number of reasons:

  • Pupils who fail to learn to read early on start to dislike reading (The Reading Framework, DfE, January 2022)
  • Children need to see themselves in the books they read –  over a third (34 per cent) of primary school age children in the UK are of an ethnic minority, but in 2020, only 8 per cent of children’s books featured a main character that wasn’t white (CLPE, Reflecting Realities 2020)
  • Children who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who are the least engaged (39.4 per cent vs 11.8 per cent, National Literacy Trust, 2018)
  • Reading to children often is important and encourages independent reading. However, only one third of children 0-13s were read to daily or nearly every day by parents in 2019 . This is in long term decline; in 2012 the figure was 41%, meaning that access to reading books in schools is more important than ever (Learnings from Lockdown, Farshore, 2021)

Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive of CLPE comments:

“We are delighted to launch our Reading for Pleasure report on the 25th anniversary of World Book Day. To encourage reading for pleasure, classrooms need a wide range of books that encourage engagement whoever you are and whatever your starting point. A stagnant and never-changing book stock is not going to support children to develop this life-changing habit.  This is even more important for children who may have less access to books at home – and these children are likely to be those who found it difficult to get hold of books during the lockdowns. Our report shows that teachers know and understand this, resorting to resourcing their classrooms themselves to ensure their children have choice in their reading material.”


Cassie Chadderton, CEO of World Book Day comments:

World Book Day has been changing children’s lives by encouraging a love of books and reading for 25 years. Our mission to ensure that every child or young person has a book of their own, is more important than ever after the global pandemic. We know that reading for pleasure has an enormous impact on a child’s future – whether that’s their educational success, well-being or mental health, so access to books in the classroom plays a vital role in creating this life-changing habit. If children can’t find books they want to read the impact on their own lives – and for society at large – cannot be underestimated. The CLPE Reading for Pleasure report clearly shows that this lack of access to books needs addressing urgently.”


Jonathan Douglas, CEO of National Literacy Trust comments:

“World Book Day is an important moment to inspire and delight children with the wonder of books and a powerful platform to reinforce the importance of building literacy skills for life. Economic studies have shown that reading for pleasure can result in children getting better GCSEs, in turn boosting their lifetime earnings and raising the UK’s GDP. In the future, my hope is that more children will grow up to be adults who read and that reading and books are part of their world.”


This World Book Day, there are still 400,000 children in the UK who don’t have a book of their own (National Literacy Trust, 2021.) The charity’s focus is to ensure as many children as possible receive a World Book Day £1 book this year, alongside providing a wealth of opportunities for everyone to celebrate and read together, using the six elements which support a child to read for pleasure;

  1. Being read to regularly
  2. Access to books at home
  3. The ability for children to choose what they want to read
  4. Having trusted adults and peers sharing and recommending books
  5. Designated time to read
  6. The reading experience being enjoyable

To mark its milestone anniversary, World Book Day has worked with a range of respected organisations, figures and charities including CLPE, National Literacy Trust, BookTrust, the Children’s Commissioner and The Reading Agency to create a bank of advocacy around what the world will look like in 25 years if children had access to books. This can be found in the separate document.


[1] NLT, Annual Literacy Survey

[2] OECD (2002) Reading For Change Performance And Engagement Across Countries – Results From PISA 2000.