The "child-led" approach to education is "alive and kicking," according to a report published by the Centre for Policy Studies.
Pupils are given choice in the activities they take part in, teachers are encouraged not to interrupt youngsters, and children are not pressured to learn something if they do not want to, it says.
But this method is neither "stimulating nor challenging", the report says, and is affecting children's reading.
National test results from teacher assessments of seven-year-olds, which include key stage one results last year showed that nationally about one in six – 82,500 pupils – did not reach the level expected of their age group in reading.
Some 17 per cent of Yorkshire's seven-year-olds failed to make the grade in reading assessments – the joint worst score in England along with the North East, West Midlands and London.
The CPS report argues that children should learn to read using structured teaching methods like synthetic phonics whereby children learn the sounds needed to make up words, often through repetition.
But despite government efforts to encourage schools to use this method, child-led approaches still persist.
Report author Miriam Gross said schools were not repeating phonics "over and over again" until children learn them.
"It is seen as more fun for children to learn a whole word or guess at it then hope that they can remember them."
But this does not work when children start coming across unfamiliar words, she said.
The report says schools should take advantage of the fact that children are good at memorising.