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Major study reveals reading habits of Welsh pupils

The annual ‘What Kids Are Reading Report’, a nationwide study including over 26,000 pupils from Wales from leading edtech provider, Renaissance, shows a 4.4% year-on-year decrease in the number of books being read by children from Year 1 to Year 11.

For the last 16 years, the report has tracked the book-reading habits of the nation’s pupils, and this is the first time, outside of the first year of the pandemic, there has been a decline in the number of books read since research began in 2008. 26,114,262 books were read by 1,273,795 pupils in the 2022-2023 academic year compared to 27,265,657 by 1,282,647 pupils in the previous academic year.

The downturn in book reading echoes similar findings in declining reading attainment shown in longitudinal research on post-pandemic learning recovery from Renaissance and the Educational Policy Institute (EPI). Additional research from Renaissance and GL Assessment shows teachers believe a third (33%) of their pupils are weak readers and that children are struggling to keep up with the curriculum due to their reading ability. A quarter (26%) of pupils are taken out of class for reading support with, on average, half a day of curriculum time per week given to helping students read.

Secondary reading slump in Welsh schools, but more reading time leads to higher attainment

Findings from previous years have shown Wales has lagged behind the reading comprehension levels of other areas of the UK. However, students in Wales are catching up and the report shows there are ‘promising signs’. Welsh teachers are encouraging pupils, particularly older students, to be more proactive in seeking out more challenging books than in previous years.

That said, reading decline overall remains acute in secondary schools. The report finds that primary school pupils read harder books as they get older, but during secondary school there is a downturn. With this sharp drop comes a decline in understanding, with pupils in primary schools also consistently showed a higher quality of comprehension when reading.

However, the research also confirms the link between more reading time in school with higher reading attainment. When considering Engaged Reading Time (ERT) and Cumulative Number of Words Read (see Figure 3), we see further evidence of the impact of the time spent reading – the more time is allocated to reading, the greater the number of words read, with the biggest gains occurring when ERT exceeds 30 minutes per day.

Additionally presented in the What Kids Are Reading report are findings from a survey of 71,351 pupils by the National Literacy Trust (NLT). With these figures showing a 26% decrease in the number of children reading daily in their free time since 2005, time devoted to reading in the classroom is more important than ever. NLT data shows pupils’ enjoyment of reading in their free time at the lowest level since 2005 and is lowest among those receiving free school meals (39.5%) compared to those who don’t (43.8%).

Reading role models: favourite books 2024

The What Kids Are Reading report reveals trends and pupils’ attitudes towards popular authors and books. Alongside popular fantasy and light-hearted fiction, this year’s New Entrants to the list of children’s favourite/most read authors/books showed a trend in children turning to books to find more representative and aspirational role models.

Footballer turned author Marcus Rashford is an inspiring role model, well-known for his advocacy and work for free school meals. His book series, The Breakfast Club Adventures, draws on his own experiences at breakfast clubs and the support they provided to him and his family growing up. Another new entrant to the top list, Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara’s Little People, BIG DREAMS series focuses on leading lights through history, from Marie Curie to Frida Kahlo. And Bryan Patrick Avery’s Black Men in Science focuses on Black men in history who have contributed to scientific developments.

Mark Rogerson, Head of English at Myddelton College in Denbigh commented, “Renaissance has truly transformed the way we approach literacy at Myddelton College. It’s been embraced by our diverse student body and has become a cornerstone of our curriculum, fostering a shared love of reading. Despite initial hesitations, the integration of Renaissance into our daily schedule has proven to be an oasis of calm and a catalyst for improving literacy. It’s a testament to the power of dedicated reading time and the positive impact of educational technology.” 

The What Kids Are Reading Report was written using Renaissance data analysed by Professor Keith Topping from the University of Dundee. Commenting on the overall decline in reading: “There are a number of possible reasons for the decline, but the high number of pupils persistently absent from school post-Covid is likely to be the biggest factor. This is especially true in secondary school as these pupils are more likely to be weaker readers.

The key takeaway from this report is that more reading practice at an appropriate level of difficulty improves pupils’ reading performance, with more reading time in school leading to higher reading attainment. This has a knock-on impact on academic performance across the board. Focusing on comprehension and finding books they genuinely love will benefit pupils within and beyond the classroom.  Schools and parents can support students by encouraging them to read often and consume more challenging books.”

Crispin Chatterton, former teacher and Director of Education at Renaissance, commented, “Despite the dip in overall reading levels, there is still much to celebrate in terms and depth and breadth of the books being read across the UK, Ireland and beyond. The What Kids Are Reading report identifies which books and authors are most engaging pupils. This is vital information for teachers to ensure pupils are reading books they really enjoy. When reading for pleasure, pupils are more likely to pay close attention to the content and it encourages a love of reading which stretches beyond their school years.

“It’s great to see children turning to books to find more representative and aspirational role models in this year’s report. We hope this means all children can see themselves reflected in the literature they consume, and that reading can support the development of a more inclusive and understanding society.”

Access the ‘What Kids Are Reading’ 2024 report here: www.whatkidsarereading.co.uk