The standards of British education are rapidly lagging behind most of the world’s industrial countries, which is a great pity. A recent depressing survey shows 1 in 5 people can’t name even a single author. It is truly a disgrace. From Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, Britain has never been short of literary geniuses but it seems many of us are not aware of them – after a survey revealed the unthinkable.

Author Michael Morpurgo warned of a gulf which saw many British shut off from the joy of reading books. The Royal Society of Literature surveyed nearly 2,000, asking them to name a writer, but 20% of respondents said they couldn’t think of one. It also emerged that 25% had not read a book in the past six months, and 15% thought that literature was too difficult for them to understand. But over half of those who said they did not currently read books said that they would like to, and 88% agreed that literature should be part of education.

Reacting to the findings, Mr Murpogo, the author of War Horse and a Children’s Laureate, said: ‘A vast number of our society do not know, or value, or love literature.’ He added: ‘There seems to be a gulf that shuts of twenty percent of people from the benefits of literature, a gulf that I know the RSL and others are determined to bridge.’

Of the authors named by respondents, William Shakespeare topped the list, followed by Charles Dickens. One mother was forced to send her son to school dressed as an Argos catalogue for World Book Day because he could not think of a character to base a costume on. Vicky Bowles, 33, said: ‘It’s his favourite.’

As a publisher, I’m appalled that as a nation we give our priorities to less august enterprises when education should be our prime concern. It is apparent that low standards in a variety of subjects are becoming the norm and culture is no exception.

Is it perhaps our obsession with money and wealth are the cause of it all?

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