Secondary teachers are likely to find their best performing pupils are those who read for pleasure earlier in life, according to new research.
Dr Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown at the Institute of Education (IOE) analysed the reading behaviour of approximately 6,000 young people followed by the 1970 British Cohort Study and considered their test results in maths, vocabulary and spelling at the ages of five, ten and 16.
Looking at children from similar social backgrounds and who achieved the same scores at five and ten years old, they found pupils who had often read for pleasure aged ten, and still did so at least once a week, fared better on all three tests at 16 than those who read less regularly.
The impact on vocabulary development was particularly pronounced, but the effect on spelling and mathematical ability was also significant.
Dr Sullivan commented: "It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children's maths scores."
"But it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects."
Reading for pleasure was deemed more influential on children's cognitive development between ten and 16 than parents' level of education, with reading books often, frequent library visits and reading newspapers at 16 offering a combined advantage four times greater than having a parent with a degree.
Yet parental influence was visible, as children who were often read to by their parents aged five tended to do better on all three tests at 16, whereas children whose parents had reading problems were more likely to perform poorly.
With functional illiteracy in Britain currently standing at 15 per cent, Dr Sullivan suggested initiatives to increase adult literacy rates would substantially bolster children's learning outcomes.
Earlier this year, the IOE also argued timely, successful literacy interventions could prevent negative long-term outcomes for children, including incarceration, claiming such steps could deliver public savings of up to £17 for every £1 spent.
Posted by Tim Colman