Secondary teachers need to challenge their pupils to read more challenging works of literature, a new study has indicated.
For the fifth annual 'What Kids Are Reading' report, published by educational software company Renaissance Learning, over 300,000 children across 1,605 UK primary and secondary schools were polled on their reading preferences.
Researchers then analysed the difficulty of the books chosen using a system that scanned these works for average sentence length, the difficulty of words and the book's size; they also questioned the pupils on their understanding of the books.
The study revealed that while year three pupils tended to read books with a reading age of nearly nine-years-old, by year nine pupils on average preferred books with a reading age of just ten.
Furthermore, the most popular books among pupils in year nine-to-eleven were works by Roald Dahl and also entries in Jeff Kinney's 'Wimpy Kid' book series, which were also among the most popular with primary school age children.
According to the report, primary school teachers were more likely to push pupils to read challenging books due to an awareness of the need to develop literacy schools at an early age.
By contrast, the rate of progress in reading difficulty slowed significantly once pupils reached secondary school, with the report warning that there is something "seriously amiss" with the way these institutions encourage young people to read.
Its author, Professor Keith Topping from the University of Dundee, told the Guardian: "We know that reading ability is highly correlated with academic achievement.
"So, if children are reading books that are too easy, this is not only affecting their reading, but also all of their intellectual development - they will not be encountering more difficult and complex concepts; i.e. not thinking better."
He suggested that those in teaching jobs - as well as parents and librarians - need to engage with children in encouraging them to follow their enthusiasms on the one hand, but on the other ensuring that their choice of reading material is sufficiently complex.
Professor Topping's warning is borne out by recently published official statistics for 2011-12 indicating that 32 per cent of pupils did not achieve the level of progress expected of them in English at secondary school, up from 28.2 per cent in 2010-11.
Posted by Theo Foulds