Less than a quarter of schoolchildren are benefiting from the recommended daily time for reading for pleasure – despite research showing it can have a huge impact on attainment, according to a major new study.
More schools are now being urged to timetable in daily reading-for-pleasure times following findings in the What Kids Are Reading 2019 report, which studied the reading habits of more than a million children in 5,000 schools in the UK and Ireland.
“The big message that is coming out of this report, and in other studies, is that when kids are reading for at least 15 minutes a day - and understanding what they are reading - you begin to see accelerated growth and you get optimal growth at thirty minutes a day,” says James Bell, of literacy and assessment provider Renaissance UK, which produced the report.
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Renaissance UK, which says the report is the biggest-ever study of its kind in the UK, says that only 23 per cent of the 6,000 schools it works with are currently timetabling-in slots for reading-for-pleasure of 20 minutes for secondary pupils and 30 minutes for primaries.
Mr Bell added: “The reason we’re only recommending 20 minutes in secondaries is that we know its hard but we want to be realistic.
“I’ve seen schools in some of the worst areas who were even built without a library and now they are now reading about 16,000 books a year and their exam results have improved massively.
“If you look at life chances, what you’re going to earn and what job you’re gonna get, it all compares to how much reading you did at school.
“And if you look at the number of adults who go to prison, you can relate that to their education and their reading ability.”
The report, written by Professor Keith Topping, of the University of Dundee, which is out tomorrow, also finds there’s little to separate boys and girls in terms of attainment, but that boys prefer reading non-fiction such as sports biographies.
From the beginning of primary school to the end of secondary school, students with an average daily reading time of more than 30 minutes are likely to encounter 13.7million words, while pupils who average less than 15mins are likely to encounter 1.5 million.
But English teacher Amy Forrester, who is also head of Year 10 at Cockermouth School in Cumbria, said setting aside time for reading for pleasure was something “most schools are doing anyway”.
She said: “It’s the responsibility of all in school, and taking it out of English and putting it as everyone’s responsibility is a really good idea that could easily fit into school structures.
“But the benefits will only ever be as good as the effort put in. A vital cog in this will be the school’s approach to teaching reading for those who struggle with it.
"It isn’t pleasurable reading a book when you struggle with reading, and so this must run concurrently with teaching that does improve reading, so that all readers are fluent, and can, therefore, read for pleasure. A blanket 20 minutes won’t change much if the systems don’t improve reading alongside it.”