Scottish and Northern Irish pupils ‘top at reading’

Teachers need to do more than simply providing time for reading – ‘lively classroom discussion’ is critical, report says

Scottish and Northern Irish pupils ‘top at reading’

Pupils in Scotland and Northern Ireland have the joint-highest level of reading comprehension among the home nations, according to a new literacy study.

The annual What Kids Are Reading report uses data from assessment provider Renaissance UK that is analysed by the University of Dundee.

It found that Scottish pupils had the highest comprehension, although they read the least difficult books on average.


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Analysis of the difficulty of books and a level of comprehension indicated a "clear formula for literacy success – reading practice, reading for pleasure and appropriate challenge of books".

Renaissance is now calling on teachers and librarians to ensure that pupils are reading books of an appropriate level in order to help build literacy skills. The report also indicates that pupils' favourite books were read with better comprehension, even if they were considered to be more difficult.

Improving pupils' reading

The University of Dundee’s Professor Keith Topping said: "This report gets under the skin of children's reading habits in the UK, and the results are eye-opening. It's great to see that Scottish pupils are at the top of the table in reading comprehension.

"We can now see that balancing the three factors of appropriate reading challenge, reading practice and reading motivation are fundamental for children's reading progress.”

He added: "Although important, instilling reading culture in schools isn't just about dedicated reading time. Teachers and librarians should also encourage lively classroom discussion about fiction, with children sharing favourite authors and titles.

"They should also be on hand to advise on books with appropriate challenge bespoke to the child's interests.

"And, of course, it is important to encourage children to read outside of school, so letting them take books home is crucial."

James Bell, Renaissance director of professional services, said: "It's great to see that Scottish pupils are reading books with greater understanding. However, they still have some way to go if they're going to climb up the international rankings.

"This study shows that reading motivation, appropriate reading challenge and reading practice is the key to literacy success.

"We have to make sure that children are both challenged and charmed by the books they read."

Last week, Tes Scotland reported that the Scottish government will not have statistically reliable information about pupil performance in literacy and numeracy until the next academic year at the earliest.

MSPs were told that it will then be at least 2022 before three years' worth of comparable data is available on the government’s “key measure" of literacy and numeracy attainment.

This means Scotland is facing a five-year data hole, given that the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) was published for the last time in 2017.

The revelations came to light when education secretary John Swinney gave evidence to the inquiry led by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee into the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs).

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