In recent years, reading for enjoyment has been prioritised in schools, across government policy and through third sector initiatives, reaping huge rewards for children. Indeed, our research shows that year-on-year, growing numbers of pupils are reading for pleasure and enjoying reading.
With writing for enjoyment receiving nowhere near the same level of cross-sector support, it is perhaps unsurprising that our latest research, Children and Young People's Writing in 2015, revealed that pupils are enjoying writing far less than reading and do not write outside of school as often as they read.
Our survey of over 32,500 children and young people aged 8-18 revealed a sharp decline in how often children write outside school. Just one child in five (20.7%) writes daily outside the classroom; falling substantially from one pupil in four (27.2%) in 2014. What's more, over a quarter of children (28.1%) now say they rarely or never write something that isn't for school. There has also been a fall in children enjoying writing; where almost half (49.3%) of children enjoyed writing in 2014, this dropped to 44.8% in 2015.
So, why does this matter? We know that children who enjoy writing and who write frequently outside the classroom do better at school. Our research showed that children and young people who enjoy writing very much were seven times more likely to write above the expected level for their age, compared with those who do not enjoy writing at all (50.3% vs 7.2%); and pupils who write daily outside school were five times more likely to have levels of writing above those expected for their age, compared with those who never write outside the classroom (30.9% vs 5.8%).
Effective writing skills are also vital to give children the opportunity to gain employment and have a successful life. Without solid writing skills, young people will have fewer opportunities open to them, ultimately impacting on their own social mobility and therefore on the wider UK economy.
So, what can be done? For children and young people to enjoy writing, they need to understand its relevance to their lives and their employment prospects. They might not appreciate that writing is an important part of many jobs, such as a chef writing recipes or a police officer writing reports. More needs to be done to encourage adults to be seen writing, both for purpose and pleasure. This could be mum or dad writing out a shopping list, a brother or sister writing a note to put on the family noticeboard, or even someone on the bus writing in a notebook.
Children should also be encouraged to write about things they are interested in and to explore different ways of writing. This might be writing a match report after watching a football game, writing a comedy script inspired by a favourite comedian, or writing a diary entry after a fun day out.
Whilst the new curriculum focus on spelling, grammar and phonics is important, it must not come at the expense of encouraging writing for enjoyment. Writing for enjoyment is part of the primary and secondary curriculums, but it has not received the same support and funding from the government as reading for enjoyment. If we don't act now, the futures of children who cannot write well when they leave school could be limited before they've even started.
The National Literacy Trust has a wide range of free resources to help teachers and parents encourage children to write for enjoyment. Visit www.literacytrust.org.uk/resources/literacy-resources#writing and www.wordsforlife.org.uk for more information.