There are a variety of reasons why some children and young people are reluctant to read. It may not be perceived as cool among their friends, they might struggle to find things to read that interest them or they may be put off because they think that they do not read as well as other pupils in their class. There are also the distractions of television and other screen-based entertainment (other than reading) which can easily fill the hours after school and at weekends and are often perceived as social, whereas reading can be seen as a solitary activity. Overcoming these hurdles is just as much about changing a pupil’s attitude and behaviour towards reading as it is about improving their reading skills. Teachers play a key role in achieving this and the benefits transform lives.
Children and young people who read daily outside class are five times more likely to read above the expected level for their age compared with young people who never read outside class. There are clear links between enjoying reading, motivation to read and attainment. The more a child reads, the better his writing is likely to be as well as his speaking and listening skills. Literacy is vital for every aspect of a child’s life long after she has left school including her employment, health, parenting, confidence and happiness.
National Literacy Trust research ‘Children and Young People’s Reading’ in 2014 found that a record number of children and young people enjoy reading every day. It shows that while the proportion of pupils who read daily outside class has increased across all the key stages, the biggest increase in daily reading was seen in Key Stage 4 pupils (aged 11 to 14), almost doubling from 20.3% in 2012 to 38.2 in 2014.
However, the gap between the literacy attainment of children from poorer backgrounds and their peers remains stubbornly wide and increases significantly during secondary education. Once children have fallen behind, their chances of catching up are small; some pupils never become readers at all.
Finding the spark
One tactic is to use children’s interests and influences to make reading relevant to their lives. This may not necessarily be through fiction in the first instance, although there is a wealth of high-quality novels aimed at secondary school-aged children. Our research into the reading habits of 32,000 children and young people found six in ten have a favourite book or story. Many of the most frequently mentioned titles or series of books, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Twilight and The Hunger Games became reading phenomena before they were made into films. The challenge for secondary school teachers is how to engage their pupils by increasing the ‘demand’ for reading across their school, helping them to find a text that unlocks a whole new world of ideas and viewpoints or which might help them to explore their own identities, situations and aspirations.
Non-fiction is just as important as fiction and our research shows that as boys progress through secondary school they read more for information than for enjoyment. Knowing how and where to find out information is a vital life skill for all students, and furthermore, the ability to deploy language relevant to specific curriculum areas is a key factor in progression and attainment.
Our Literacy for Life programme (see p.69) equips pupils with the academic language they will encounter in most of their lessons to enable them to succeed in subjects across the curriculum. It aims to narrow the gap between pupils who are eligible for free school meals and their peers by addressing a language and literacy deficit which many children from disadvantaged backgrounds have when they start secondary school. The programme also supports schools to drive up demand for reading and wider literacy, increasing pupils’ frequency and enjoyment of reading in their own time.
The home environment is vital for literacy development and if learning is actively promoted, for example if a young person often see their parents reading books, it increases the likelihood that they will read for enjoyment themselves. Interestingly the emphasis placed on learning at home has a far more significant impact on reading habits than class background or parents’ income.
Parents and teachers are a child’s main role models but other role models such as sportspeople also have an influence on children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds whose families are statistically more likely to read less. For example our Premier League Reading Stars programme uses the power of football to inspire pupils to read more. It targets pupils who are not yet fans of reading but who are passionate about ‘the beautiful game’. Positioning top Premier League players as readers helps their young supporters to discover that they want to read too. By harnessing the motivational power of these role models to inspire children, especially boys, to read more, it improves pupils’ literacy skills.
Premier League Reading Stars, which will start the new season with a new booklist and free training for teachers, is supported by players and clubs from the Premier League, which funds the programme. Ten hour-long weekly literacy sessions are run in secondary schools for pupils aged between nine and 13, each covering a different genre or aspect of reading.
In November we will be launching a brand new Premier League Reading Stars website, packed with challenges, games and activities for participants, alongside a very special national Premier League competition. The site can be used at home, school or in a public library and, through completion of literacy activities, participants can unlock exclusive videos of their heroes talking about reading and sharing their top footballing tips. The site encourages parents to get involved in the programme too and take more interest in their own reading habits as well as those of their child.
Many pupils will also have the opportunity to attend one of an exciting new calendar of author days, which are reading workshops held at football clubs and include a free stadium tour of their Premier League club.
The results of Premier League Reading Stars are dramatic – three out of four children make at least six months’ progress in reading in just 10 weeks and one child in three makes a year’s progress, or more. For more information and to sign up for the Premier League Reading Stars 2015/16 season, visitwww.literacytrust.org.uk
About the author
Abigail Moss is the Deputy Director of the National Literacy Trust and is passionate about raising UK literacy levels in disadvantaged areas. She previously led a local government library improvement programme and before that worked at Arts Council England as Director of Children and Young People’s Strategy. Abigail has also been a secondary school English teacher and a performer.