Primary school children could fall a year behind their reading age if they do not read during the Covid-19 school closures. For many pupils that deficit will never be made up.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has created an unprecedented challenge for educators, parents and children:
How do we sustain children’s learning when they are away from school?
Schools are doing all they can with teachers setting on-line lessons, and signposting digital platforms
Heather Clements, former Primary School Head teacher & Senior Education Adviser believes that unless we highlight the importance of reading and help parents understand that reading is not an individual private activity but one that requires discussion and reflection in order to acquire and sustain the reader’s skills, reading standards will decline and with it the life opportunities of a whole cohort of children will be damaged.
Research in the development of reading skills, particularly what parents would understand as reading comprehension, shows that it is not just what the words say but the deeper meaning of stories and characters, that bring books to life and change children into readers.
A year-long project undertaken in 8 schools in Slough, Berkshire from January 2019, illustrates the issue. The project was designed to improve reading skills and was highly effective. The percentage of pupils achieving at or above the expected level increased by more than 35% in Year 3 and 25% in Year 4 in just 5 months. However, following the break over the summer holidays (7 weeks allowing for start and end of term loss) pupils achieving at or expected levels declined significantly. By the end of November, the pupils were performing less well than they had in June.
If this can happen in 7 weeks how much learning and progress will be lost over 12 weeks or longer, especially for children in disadvantaged families where books, time and opportunity for reading with an adult are often missing.
To what extent will children stop engaging in reading all together, beyond completing set tasks for school?
It is clear that action is required at an individual, local and national level. The most crucial years for this are Year 3 to 6 when children should be gaining these higher order reading skills but this is exactly when parents see them as independent readers and spend less time reading with them.
The biggest challenge to improving pupils reading skills is understanding how challenging it is to read with real meaning.
We have to consider all the things that we take for granted about reading based on our own life experiences and then build them into the way we support children to become readers, rather than children who can read.
Children need access to a range of books and the social interaction to explore them fully. This is about creating a reading culture that enables children to reflect on and learn, as they are read to, read to themselves and hear people talking about books.
We need to act now while the routines of social isolation and home schooling are being established, to find ways to support parents to work with their children and sustain their reading development.
We need to urge parents to use as much of their social isolation time as possible on reading with their children and provide them with guidance on how to do this effectively.
We need to find innovative ways to get books into the homes of every family so that children can benefit from the sort or reading environment they have at school. Finding the resources and the mechanisms to identify and get them to the families who need them.
We need to encourage schools and individual teachers to inspire parents with model reading sessions and fun on-line reading adventures.
We need to urge the media to produce programmes that promote books and reading on TV, radio and through podcasts and video clips.
Perhaps when many grandparents are confined to home, we should urge them to use Skype or Facetime to read stories to their grandchildren on a daily basis – “Listen with Grandad and Grandma”