Research shows reading for pleasure helps children perform significantly better in maths as well as English. This has directly influenced national and international policymakers, literacy organisations and schools to generate, fund and implement reading for pleasure campaigns and initiatives that have benefited the learning of millions of children worldwide.


  • Professor Alice Sullivan’s research is reaching millions of children internationally through:
    • Schools: Findings are used in the core text for primary teacher trainees and newly qualified teachers, ‘Becoming an outstanding primary school teacher’; and eight other books aimed at teachers, librarians and parents; and in teaching materials. The study has inspired schools in the UK and beyond to work with parents and libraries to boost the culture of reading for pleasure. New Zealand’s Ministry of Education and National Library highlighted the study in guidance to teachers; and in South Australia, findings support the Premier’s Reading Challenge, encouraging children to read 12 books in a school year.
    • Literary organisations: The research has been cited and used in campaigning and programme materials by the Book Trust, Carnegie Trust, The Reader, Reading Agency, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, UK Literacy Association, Teen Reading Action Campaign; as well as literacy associations in Canada, the US and Hong Kong. Findings support the Book Trust’s shared reading campaign, Time to Read, which, since 2016, has encouraged over 2.2 million UK children to read for fun.
    • Local authorities and libraries: Campaigning groups, local authorities and national library associations from Edinburgh to Vancouver have used the evidence to contest cuts to libraries.
  • The UK government has also recognised the findings. They were noted by Former Secretary of State for Education and Employment David Blunkett shortly before Reading for Pleasure was mandated in the National Curriculum for the first time (2014); and cited in the DfE report ‘Reading: the next steps’ (2015) which recommended government funding to support book clubs, resources for reading, and instructing schools to promote library membership. In 2016 Conservative Education Minister Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP directly referenced Sullivan’s research stating ‘It is difficult to overstate the benefits of instilling a love of reading in a child.'

"This is the first piece of robust, longitudinal evidence to support work in the field of reading for pleasure. Professor Sullivan’s research has completely shifted the narrative in the way the sector talks about reading and the long-term impact of reading for pleasure.” (Dr Carina Spaulding, Research and Evaluation Manager, The Reading Agency)

About the research

The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) is a nationally representative, longitudinal study following the lives of over 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week in 1970. Dr Alice Sullivan analysed data from this study to explore how reading for pleasure effects cognitive development.

Her ground-breaking finding shows that encouraging a love of reading in childhood reaps significant benefits that extend into later life. Children who read for pleasure aged 10 make more progress in both vocabulary and maths by age 16 than children who rarely read while growing up. “This is true even after taking account of social background,” Professor Sullivan explains. “Having highly educated parents has traditionally been recognised as the largest social predictor of a child’s progress. But we show the combined effect on children’s learning of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers, to be four times greater than the advantage children gain from a parent having a degree.”

This powerful message, backed by solid evidence and spread by extensive media coverage, has struck a chord with parents, teachers, libraries, literacy organisations and policymakers worldwide. “People want to promote reading for pleasure and this research has provided the confidence to say that it really does make a difference,” Professor Sullivan points out.

One key message of this research is that schools have enormous potential to close the word gap for children from less advantaged families. But, to do this, investment in school librarians is needed to help young people discover authors they will enjoy as well as in school (and public) libraries to provide access to a wide range of books.

“Libraries are not a luxury but vital, as is ensuring space within the crowded school curriculum for children to read books of their choice,” she says.