Reasons for reading
English teachers across all phases of education are often attracted to the profession by their own sense of the power of literature to enrich people’s lives. However, research in England over the last three decades or so suggests that opportunities for children’s and young people’s reading for pleasure may, in many schools, have been curtailed as a result of imperatives such as the National Curriculum, the National Strategies, test-based assessment and school inspections. Under multiple pressures from the government to raise reading standards, teachers have felt obliged to place increasing emphasis on meeting relatively narrow objectives and teaching to the test; correspondingly, reasons for reading in the first place have often therefore been neglected. In particular, little explicit attention has been paid, either in research or policy documentation, to why the reading of literature may still have a vital role to play in the English curriculum. Arguments for the value of literature within human society, as represented for example by longstanding reading scholars such as Louise Rosenblatt, have been all but obscured by political short-termism which measures literate success in terms of levels and grades. This chapter takes as its starting point the rationales for literature in a selection of surveys and policy documents which illustrate some of the strengths and limitations of young people’s reading of literature in English schools. It then moves on, using evidence from theorists, writers and young readers, to argue why reading literature still matters.