Calls to refocus on reading as Grattan Institute releases Reading Guarantee report

How do we equip more young Australians with the skills and desire to read? A new report from the Grattan Institute highlights the ‘reading problem’ facing our schools.

According to the new report, a third of Australian children can’t read properly. The Reading Guarantee report, released in February 2024, states: “in the typical Australian school classroom of 24 students, eight can’t read well.”

NAPLAN data cited in the report reveals that students from poor families, regional and rural areas, and Indigenous students face bigger barriers to reading success. Students from well-off families struggle too.

The research presented is consistent with data reflecting the wider population. Currently, 44% of Australians have low or very low literacy (1), and over a quarter of Australians did not read or listen to a book last year (2) – increasing to 28% for younger Australians, a 7% drop in young readers since 2018 (3). 

Regular reading for pleasure has lifelong benefits. Australians who read report higher self-esteem, are less lonely, and are 58% more likely to empathise with others (4). Physiologically, reading slows the heart rate, reduces stress (5) and can extend our lives (6). High reading rates are globally acknowledged as a sign of a healthy, democratic society. 

Action to both improve literacy skills and embed a long-term love of reading is critical. Evidence shows direct links between positive attitudes towards reading, frequency of reading, and reading attainment at school (7). In other words, if you enjoy reading, you’re more likely to want to do it, learn to do it well, and do it more often!

The Grattan report goes on to state: “Students who struggle with reading are more likely to fall behind their classmates, become disruptive, and drop out of school. They are more likely to end up unemployed or in poorly paid jobs.”

“Every child we fail to teach to read misses out on a core life skill, and Australia misses out on their potential too. For those students in school today who are hardest hit by poor reading performance, the cost to Australia is about $40 billion over their lifetimes.”

Australia Reads commends the Grattan Institute for their important work, with this report shining a light on a very real problem facing Australian society. Given the many benefits of reading, the long-term cost to Australia may in fact be far beyond the $40 billion the report estimates.

The Grattan report asks all state and territory governments, and Catholic and independent school sector leaders, to commit to a six-step ‘Reading Guarantee’. Read the six steps in the full report, and sign up to our enews for the latest news and updates on reading engagement in Australia.



  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011-2012, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, ABS, Australia
  2.  Australia Council for the Arts 2020, Creating Our Future: Results of the National Arts and Participation Survey; Australia Reads 2021, National Reading Survey
  3.  Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021-2022, Cultural and creative activities, ABS, Australia
  4. Billington, J 2015, Reading between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure, University of Liverpool
  5. Lewis, D 2009, ‘Galaxy Stress Research’, Mindlab International, Sussex University
  6.  Bavishi, A & Slade, M. & Levy, BR 2016, ‘A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity’. Social Science & Medicine, vol. 164
  7. Clark, C., and Douglas, J. 2011 Young People’s Reading and Writing An indepth study focusing on enjoyment, behaviour, attitudes and attainment National Literacy Trust