Reading confidence: Quiet places to read and peer support key, report finds

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Pupils who are more confident with their reading have higher levels of wellbeing and lower levels of anxiety, research involving 80,000 young people has underlined.

The research also emphasises the importance of having a quiet space to read and how this links to how often pupils read and how much they enjoy it.

The study has been undertaken by ImpactEd and the National Literacy Trust (NLT) and considers when, how and why children and young people read and the impact it has on mental health. It is based on responses from learners aged 6 to 18.

When it comes to reading confidence, the report finds that female and male pupils have “approximately similar assessments of their own reading ability”. However, “female pupils are less confident when reading out loud and are more concerned about what other pupils think of their reading”.

The report adds: “Female pupils had confidence in reading scores that were 2.8% lower than male pupils. The gap appears to be driven by a small number of questions related to the opinions of their peers. For example, females scored 10.8% lower than males on a question related to how much they worry about what other pupils think of their reading.”

As such, the report recommends that alongside one-to-one or small group reading support, schools “could consider how peer groups can be best harnessed to proactively support reading confidence and fluency”.

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The report also finds that reading confidence is one of the largest gaps facing Pupil Premium pupils and those with SEN.

Elsewhere, the findings show that pupils who scored themselves as confident readers had wellbeing levels 31.8% higher and anxiety levels 21% lower than pupils who are less confident readers.

Furthermore, girls (44%) are much more likely to read for their wellbeing or to take a break then boys (27%).

And 37% of pupils without a quiet space to read at home reported that they did not read in their free time at all compared to 12% of pupils who do have a quiet space to read at home.

A key recommendation in the report is for schools to “consider increasing physical space and time for quiet reading in the school environment – particularly for pupils where this is not possible at home”. This is especially pertinent as part of pandemic recovery work in schools, it says.

The research finds that as pupils get older, they are increasingly likely to read using a mobile phone. However, some pupils who do use their mobile to read report higher anxiety levels than those who don’t.

In key stage 2, 19% of pupils report using their mobile phone to read, increasing to 33% in key stage 3, and 46% in key stage 4.

At key stage 3, there was a “notable relationship” between reading on a phone and higher anxiety levels. Overall, key stage 3 pupils who spent time reading on a phone had anxiety levels that were 10% higher than their peers who did not read on a phone.

A notable finding is that a significant number of pupils do not read with anyone at home, including 23% of key stage 2 pupils, 53% in key stage 3, and 58% in key stage 4.

The report suggests that schools might do more to support families to engage in reading at home, including offering pupils encouragement by asking questions about what they are reading or suggesting new books.

The report adds: “Pupils’ suggestions for how schools could most effectively support their reading centred around the importance of having enough quiet reading time, and a larger variety of books available. Several pupils noted the important role of adults and teachers at school to encourage their reading for pleasure – ‘they could ask us questions about what we’re reading’.

“One pupil eloquently summarised the sentiment of many others: ‘I think we should dedicate more time to reading and we should be more encouraged to read.’”

Owen Carter, co-founder of ImpactEd, said: “These findings highlight how reading can play a key role in supporting both wellbeing and academic achievement. We hope the recommendations will help schools and parents understand how they can support pupils to develop positive reading habits.”

Dr Christina Clark, director of research for the NLT, added: “The relationship between children’s wellbeing and their reading habits is a crucial area of research for us all to take notice of. We hope that the comments from children, including how reading helps them feel less anxious or alone and helps them relax and feel connected, will help lead changes in the midst of a challenging time for children’s mental health.”

This is the second publication in ImpactEd’s Impact In Practice research series, a longitudinal study sharing data on the experience of pupils in England and how schools can best support them. The Reading Well report contains data from ImpactEd’s own research with schools as well as the NLT’s annual national literacy survey.

The final report offers practical ideas for ways to support reading that could support children’s mental wellbeing as well. The NLT also offers a range of support and resources for schools and families.

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