Fewer children are reading in their spare time because of the “embarrassment” of carrying books in front of friends, according research.

Figures show a gradual year-on-year drop in the number of eight- to 16-year-olds choosing to pick up novels outside school.

Data published by the National Literacy Trust shows that just three-in-10 now read every day in their own time compared with four-in-10 seven years ago.

Many children are also turning their backs on other forms of reading, including magazines and websites, it was revealed. The popularity of comics has almost halved since 2005, figures show.

Researchers warned that young people were increasingly shunning texts in favour of other activities such as television and games consoles.

The conclusions follow comments earlier this year from Claire Tomalin, the acclaimed biographer, who warned that many pupils had such poor attention spans that they were unable to access books such as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities.

According to the latest study, one-in-six children admitted they were too embarrassed to read in front of their friends for fear of being labelled a geek.

Researchers said it was “essential” for children to make time to read as there was a clear link between reading outside lessons and academic achievement.

Young people who read at home on a daily basis are 13 times more likely to perform above the level expected for their age in literacy, it was claimed.

Jonathan Douglas, trust director, called on the Government to back a national campaign to halt the reading decline and “give children time to read in their daily lives”.

“The fact that children are reading less than in 2005 signals a worrying shift in young people’s literacy habits,” he said.

“We believe we need to inspire a new generation to read in the same way that the Olympics is inspiring a new generation to take part in sport.

“We need to make reading irresistible. We want to call on families and professionals working with children and young people to make 10 minutes in their day for reading.”

The research was based on a long-running survey of 21,000 children in primary and secondary education.

It emerged that 38.1 per cent of pupils read in their spare time when the study was first carried out in 2005. This dropped to 37.7 per cent in 2007, 32.2 per cent in 2009 and 30.8 per cent in the latest poll was completed in 2011.

The research found that 54 per cent of those questioned preferred watching TV to reading.

“These findings together suggest a clear issue with children’s leisure time with many children enjoying reading but pushing it out in favour of other activities,” said the study.

Of those who did read outside class, 47.8 per cent said they read fiction, down from 51.5 per cent in 2005.

Other forms of reading were also in decline, it was revealed. The study also showed that 57 per cent of children read magazines, compared with 77.5 per cent in 2005; 50.4 per cent read websites compared with 63.8 per cent seven years ago; and 27.9 per cent read comics, down from 50.6 per cent in 2005.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The findings of this survey come as no surprise and shows that we need to continue our drive to encourage young people to develop a love of reading.

“In a world of so many distractions for young minds, the place of literature is more important than ever.

Children need to master the basics of reading as early as possible in primary school so they can then go on to explore magical and powerful books such as Private Peaceful, Harry Potter, and, in good time, books such as Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm and those by Charles Dickens.

“That why we’ve introduced a short and simple phonics check at the end of year 1 to make sure children have mastered the basics.”

By Graeme Paton

Source: Telegraph.co.uk – http://goo.gl/Ng5BL