UK-wide study reveals reading habits among 1 million school pupils

The annual ‘What Kids Are Reading Report’ from learning and assessment provider Renaissance Learning reveals the number of books read by children this year has increased again year on year, while comprehension levels remain high.

The study of over 1 million pupils across the UK and Ireland shows that pupils read 11% more books than the previous year. The books they read matched the increased difficulty found in last year’s report and comprehension levels stayed the same as achieved in 2021.

Reading enjoyment

Additionally presented in the report are findings from a survey of 42,502 pupils by the National Literacy Trust (NLT). Previous data from the NLT found that children’s enjoyment of reading was at an all-time low at the beginning of 2020 but that this trend was reversed dramatically during lockdown – where reading for pleasure increased for the first time since 2016.

While this year’s enjoyment levels have not quite reached the heights they did during school closures (56%), the latest NLT data continues to show an improvement on pre-pandemic levels with just over half of children and young people aged 8-18 still saying they enjoyed reading either very much (21.6%) or quite a lot (29.9%).

Primary to secondary slump

In primary school pupils read harder books as they get older, but during secondary school this declines. Older pupils in secondary school were still reading the same difficulty of books as upper primary pupils. Pupils in primary schools also consistently showed a much higher quality of comprehension when reading (79% to 83%) than pupils in secondary schools (67% to 73%). And this comes despite secondary pupils reading books that were only as difficult as those the primary school pupils were reading. It is striking how, from Year 7, the difficulty of favoured books declines sharply, with the transfer to secondary school having a significant effect even on highly motivated readers.

Favourite books and authors

From 2021 to 2022 there was little change in most popular authors in primary schools, except Julia Donaldson became a little less popular and Roderick Hunt bounced back to a degree. Jeff Kinney, David Walliams and Roald Dahl remained popular. J. K. Rowling re-emerged as a top five most popular author.

Readers can vote for their favourite books after finishing the book. J.K Rowling dominates the list of favourite books within primary schools, with her Harry Potter titles taking the top 3 spots. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows comes out on top, with Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban second, and Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix third.

There are more changes in secondary schools, Rick Riordan has been knocked off the top spot this year and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson takes the crown as the favourite book read by secondary pupils. All of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series also entered the top ten for the first time.

The ‘What Kids Are Reading Report’ was written using Renaissance data analysed by University of Dundee academic Professor Keith Topping. Professor Keith Topping, the principal author of this report, is also the author of the upcoming publication about AR Improving reading comprehension of self-chosen books through computer assessment and feedback: Best practices from research.

Professor Keith Topping comments: “As schools return to something like normal, Accelerated Reader has continued to maintain and even increase reading activity in children and young people. We see clearly from the evidence that time spent reading books is crucial to improved reading skill, an essential transferable skill for the future. Children with high quality comprehension of real books also perform better on tests of reading skill. This is excellent, but more attention to communicating favourite books between peers would increase it even further.”

John Moore, Managing Director of Renaissance UK and Australia said: “The past year has continued to be challenging as pupils adjust to post-pandemic life and most return full time to school. We know books and reading have provided millions of pupils with comfort and escapism and we’re delighted to see this passion continuing, with pupils overall reading 11% more books over the last academic year.

“At Renaissance we understand the important role reading plays not only in a child’s learning, but also in their overall development and wellbeing. Books have never been more accessible than they are today, from visiting local libraries and bookstores to accessing books on myON or Accelerated Reader. This report highlights how important it is that everyone has access to a wide range of books that ignite their own personal passions so each child gets the most out of the opportunities for development that a love of reading can embed.”

Dr Christina Clark, Head of Research at the National Literacy Trust, comments: “The National Literacy Trust are delighted to contribute to this annual report with Renaissance Learning. It is heartening to see in our research that more children and young people said in 2021 that they enjoy reading compared with early 2020.  Our data also suggests that Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader (AR) programme can be a valuable tool for sustaining the enthusiasm for reading during lockdown, as we found that more children and young people who use AR said that they enjoy reading, and that this is particularly the case for boys."

A copy of the full report can be found here: www.whatkidsarereading.co.uk

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