Literacy in the UK: Are children being allowed to fail?

 An exclusive report launched today, 3rd March, entitled “What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Pupils in British Schools 2011,”  shows that primary schools have made impressive gains in improving literacy standards but, as they move toward secondary school stage, reading levels decline year on year, with children selecting increasingly less difficult books to read.

 The independent study, conducted by Professor Keith Topping, University of Dundee, comes at a time when the UK has slipped down to 25th place in the OECD ranking of reading, and statistics from the Department for Education show that more than half of all five-year-old boys in England are failing to make sufficient progress at school.

 Professor Keith Topping, Professor of Educational and Social Research, School of Education, University of Dundee said; “There are some disturbing signs regarding difficulty of books. Although in a small number of years the difficulty of books remained the same as our study in 2010, in the majority of years the difficulty of books has sharply declined. If we are to address the worrying decline in reading skills identified in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) world ranking for Britain, we have to ensure our children are reading at or above their reading age.”

 Commissioned and published annually by Renaissance Learning this is the third report to provide detailed information on the books that children read and their comprehension levels. The report contains data from 150,220 school children and was based on 1,860,440 assessments taken by UK pupils between August 1, 2009 and July 31, 2010. The study found that, in the first four school years, the difficulty of books read was above what would be age-appropriate, but from Year 5 onwards, the difficulty generally declined steadily.

 Findings from the report itself have shown, for the second year running, that the gap between gender differences in reading is starting to close, with boys progressively reading as much as girls, although boys are revealed to be reading books at a much lower level than girls as they get older.

 Annie Mauger, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, provided the foreword for the 2011 report, commenting: “Every child needs the best possible start in reading. Every parent wants this for their child. Day-to-day, as part of their school life, parents want to know that their children are being challenged to read more and learn more. The more tools they can be given to support that process the better.”

 Booksellers, publishers and libraries have data on what books are sold or borrowed but are unable to corroborate if the books have ever been opened, read or understood by the children themselves. The data for this report was captured by Accelerated Reader from Renaissance Learning; web-based software, designed to manage book reading for teachers whilst encouraging pupils to read more books for pleasure.

 Dirk Foch, managing director of Renaissance Learning, explains: “With literacy rates in the UK declining in comparison to other countries, this report is essential reading for educators, parents and the Government. If we are to inspire a love of reading in children then knowing what they love to read is crucial information in any strategy to improve literacy.”

 For a copy of the full report please visit

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