New report suggests lack of challenge in children’s reading


A new report into the reading habits of over 300,000 students in more than 1,600 UK schools suggests a lack of challenge in children’s reading is leading to children opting for ‘easier reads’  beyond Year 6.

The fifth annual ‘What Kids Are Reading’ report found that while students in Year 3 (aged 7 and 8) are reading books with an average reading age of 8.8, almost a year above their actual age, Year 9 students (aged 13 and 14) are reading books with an average reading age of just 10, up to four years below their actual age.

Despite this, the report shows that when young people do read challenging books, they tend to enjoy them more and understand them better. When comparing the most popular (as voted for by students) and most read titles across Years 1 to 7, the books in the most popular list are generally of a greater level of difficultly than those most read.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Boys vs girls – Girls outperform boys in reading, although by a smaller margin than in previous years – last year’s What Kids Are Reading report highlighted that the books boys were reading were no longer of a lower difficultly than girls. This year however, girls once again outperform boys, although by a smaller margin than in previous years.
  • Boys’ reading needs – At secondary level, boys are particularly likely to read books, both fiction and non-fiction, that are too easy for them and their reading needs closer monitoring than that of girls. The overall preference for non-fiction books by boys continues.
  • Fiction vs non-fiction – Non-fiction books at secondary level are dominated by male themes and are being read with less accuracy and comprehension – at primary level, the non-fiction books read are of equal difficulty to fiction books; however, for secondary aged students the non-fiction books being read become much less difficult in comparison to the actual age of the children.

The report’s author, Professor Keith Topping said: “From the start of secondary school, all young people, including both high ability and struggling readers, tend to read books that do not challenge them enough which no doubt partly explains why children’s reading ability tends to continue to lag behind their chronological age in certain years. However, the report shows evidence that teachers are becoming more proactive when it comes to helping students choose books of an appropriate level of difficultly for them, a very positive step, but there is still more work to be done.”

The report found that children’s books with a fantasy or adventure theme were most popular, as were book series and on-screen adaptations of books.