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GCSE pupils’ reading level is three years below their actual age, study suggests

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24 Feb 2017

Secondary school pupils are reading books that are too easy for them, according to a study


By the time students reach their GCSE year, they may have a reading age of around three years younger, while even those in their first year of senior school are around a year behind, it suggests.

The study, published by assessment service Renaissance UK, is based on an analysis of the reading habits of almost 850,00 UK children.

It found that in primary school, pupils often push themselves to read more difficult books. In general, in the final year of their primary education pupils’ ages typically match up with their reading age.

But the situation changes once they get to secondary school.

By the first year of secondary school – when children are 11 or 12 – they are reading books around a year behind their chronological age, and in Year 8 (12 to 13-year-olds) pupils were reading books around two years behind where they should be.

For children in Years 9 to 11 (aged 13 to 16), the report says: “On average overall these pupils were reading at well over three years below their chronological age.”

This means that many children taking their GCSE exams this year are likely to have a reading age of around 13, Renaissance UK said.

Professor Keith Topping, of Dundee University, who carried out the research, said: “The brain is a muscle that literacy skills help train. As it gets more toned, like all muscles, it needs more exercise. Currently, primary schools are exercising it more vigorously by reading more challenging books – we now need to replicate this in secondary schools. More discussions in between young people about books they are reading should be encouraged.

“I would also encourage all secondary teachers, not just English teachers, to look closely at their pupils’ literacy levels and remember – even the brightest students need to be stretched.”

The report also looked at the most-read books, and which are children’s favourites.

It found that Roald Dahl’s The Twits was most frequently chosen and read by primary school students, while among secondary school pupils it was Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School, closely followed by David Walliams’ novel Gangsta Granny.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling was the favourite among primary youngsters, with six books in the top 10, while YouTube star Zoe Suggs’ (Zoella) two books were voted favourites for secondary school students.

Renaissance UK managing director Dirk Foch said: “The 2017 What Kids Are Reading report shows the enduring popularity of some of the classic titles and familiar favourites – books by Roald Dahl, Julia Donaldson and JK Rowling continue to delight and inspire new generations of young people.

“However, the popularity of newer authors like YouTube star Zoella and David Walliams continues to rise among both primary and secondary pupils. This indicates a fascinating trend in which other mediums like television and internet are increasingly influencing young people’s reading habits.”

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