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Scottish children ‘not reading challenging enough books’

Wimpy Kid and David Walliams dominate reading lists at both primary and secondary level.

David Walliams: Almost 30,000 students were polled for the study (file pic). <strong>PA</strong>
David Walliams: Almost 30,000 students were polled for the study (file pic). PA

Secondary school pupils in Scotland are not reading challenging enough books, according to a literacy study.

Education support company Renaissance UK said many 16-year-olds sitting National 4 and 5 exams have the reading ability of a 13-year-old or lower.

In a study, the firm found pupils in secondary school often read books that are no harder than those in primary school.

Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and David Walliams’ books, mainly aimed at pre-teen children, dominated the primary reading lists.

However, the two authors also occupied eight of the top ten spots for secondary readers.

Renaissance is now calling for more dedicated time for reading in secondary school after looking at the reading performance of 29,524 pupils across Scotland for the What Kids are Reading Report.

The study found an emphasis on literacy development in primary schools which sees pupils typically read more advanced books for their age but progress largely stops when they reach secondary school with the difficulty of books falling as pupils get older.

Consequently, the gap between reading ability and pupils’ age grows every year of secondary school.

The decline exists among both boys and girls and across the UK as a whole but could be reduced by reading for just 15 minutes per day, Renaissance UK added.

Renaissance managing director Dirk Foch said: “The vast majority of primary schools place an emphasis on developing pupils’ literacy skills. However, this is rarely continued once pupils go to secondary school.

“Evidence shows that pupils make the most progress when they read for just 15 minutes per day, so I would encourage all secondary school teachers to build some dedicated reading time into the timetable to avert a further fall in literacy levels among young people.”

Initiatives such as the First Minister’s Reading Challenge aim to encourage schoolchildren to explore a wider range of books and develop a love of reading.

However, some parents say these schemes can serve to reduce children’s enjoyment of reading by making it too formalised.

Keith Topping, professor of educational and social research at the University of Dundee, analysed the results of the study.

He said: “To avert a further slide in literacy levels in secondary schools, pupils should be encouraged to push themselves to read more difficult books.

“By their teenage years pupils are more likely to take advice from their friends and peers than their teachers and parents about the types of books they should be reading.

“With this in mind, teachers could encourage them to talk more openly about what they are reading and make appropriate suggestions to their classmates.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Improving education and raising standards for all is this government’s number one priority.

“That is why our education reforms have a relentless focus on literacy and we are making a significant investment, through the Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Funding, to close the literacy attainment gap.”

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