New research commissioned by school programme provider Renaissance UK has claimed that secondary school children are failing to develop their reading levels as they should, unlike their primary school counterparts.
The study was conducted by Keith Topping, professor of educational and social research at the University of Dundee, who told The Bookseller that the findings from the 2017 What Kids Are Reading Report suggest the government needs to intervene to ensure secondary school pupils are stretched and motivated.
The data, collected from almost a million young people across the UK, is said to demonstrate that in the final year of primary school, children’s ages generally match up with their appropriate "reading age"; however by the age of 16, a young person's reading age has fallen behind and is typically three years behind their chronological age.
Topping said: “The brain is a muscle that literacy skills help train. As it gets more toned, like all muscles, it needs more exercise. Currently, primary schools are exercising it more vigorously by reading more challenging books – we now need to replicate this in secondary schools. More discussions in between young people about books they are reading should be encouraged.
“I would also encourage all secondary teachers, not just English teachers, to look closely at their pupils’ literacy levels and remember – even the brightest students need to be stretched.”
He told The Bookseller: “This is the biggest report we’ve done in the UK [into these issues]. If children can be most motivated they will read more challenging books than otherwise. That is what we are wanting in the problem of secondary education. In fact, they are falling further and further behind. This problem has been noted before but this time we have a much bigger number of kids questioned.
“This is not just a small problem in a small area but a problem which is happening all over the UK. Primary schools seem to be doing fairly well. The real problem is secondary school we have to let our specialist teachers help – rather than just English teachers or school librarians, if any still exist. For example if the woodwork teacher has challenging books on woodwork they could let the pupils read those books. If there was also a chance to fit more reading time into the curriculum, that would be good. [The research suggests] that secondary schools are not challenging teenagers to read challenging enough books. There needs to be a government involvement [on this].”
The professor also challenged David Walliams to write some “more challenging books”, the author being one of those cited as most popular in the report. He added that he was keen for J K Rowling to write more books which could challenge children again “as most children have read Harry Potter by now”.
The report surveyed the reading habits of 848,219 children across 3,897 schools throughout the 2015-16 academic year.