Growing numbers of children are catching the reading bug and picking up a book outside of class, according to new research.

It reveals that, in 12 months, there was a 28.6% increase in the number of youngsters who read on a daily basis and not for their school work.

Those who read each day outside lessons are five times more likely to be above the expected level in the subject for their age group, compared to youngsters who never read outside school.

But the annual study, published by the National Literacy Trust, also shows a continuing gender gap, with boys less likely to enjoy reading than girls, and suggests that many youngsters would still rather watch TV than have their nose in a book.

Overall, reading levels have hit a new high, the report concludes, with record numbers of children and young people enjoying the activity every day.

More than half (54.4%) of the 32,000 youngsters questioned said they enjoy reading quite a lot or very much - the highest it has been since the Trust began the survey in 2010.

And just over two in five (41.1%) read daily outside of class, up from 32.2% the year before - a 28.6% increase.

There has been a drop in the proportion of youngsters who say their parents do not care if they spend any time reading - 24.3% said this, compared to 25.5% the year before.

But more than half (55.2%) of those polled still prefer watching TV to reading, although this is down slightly on the year before, and three in 10 (30.3%) say they cannot find things to read that interest them.

Just over one in four (27.6%) say they only read when they have to.

A breakdown shows that girls are keener on reading than their male classmates, with nearly half (46.5%) saying they read daily outside class, compared to 35.8% of boys, and more girls saying they enjoy the activity either very much or quite a lot.

Trust supporter Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse, said: "How good it is to have some heartening news about young readers, to know that there are so many now who have taken to reading and are making it part of their lives. This is quiet enrichment. This is growing awareness and understanding. This is the heart of the matter of education for life.

"But much is still to be done. Too many boys still seem disinterested in reading, and far, far too many children simply never become readers at all. So we writers and illustrators and storytellers, and parents and teachers, and publishers and booksellers, must continue to play our part.

"And government too should remember that literacy must first and foremost be enjoyed, if we are to engage our most reluctant readers, and remember too that libraries and librarians, both in schools and in our communities, must be a priority."

Youngsters are reading a wide variety of materials, the report found, including websites, text messages, emails, ebooks, blogs, fiction, lyrics, comics and poems.

The study also examined youngsters' background and found that those with a white heritage are least likely to enjoy reading and are more likely to have negative attitudes towards it.

Compared with children from other ethnic backgrounds, they are less likely to agree that reading is "cool" and more likely to say they would be embarrassed if their friends saw them read.

Trust director Jonathan Douglas said: "It is very encouraging to see that the number of children who read every day has radically increased.

"However, it is a real concern that a third of the most disadvantaged children think their parents do not care whether they read. More must be done to help parents realise what a difference reading with their children from a young age can make to their future."

:: The survey questioned 32,026 eight to 18-year-olds in November and December.