Warning over reading standards as children shun tough books
Reading standards among children are in sharp decline as pupils increasingly opt for easy books in school and the home, according to a report published today.
By the end of primary education, pupils start to shun relatively difficult texts in favour of more straightforward alternatives suitable for younger children, research found.
Academics from Dundee University analysed children’s reading habits throughout primary and secondary education and found the difficulty of books “declined steadily” from the age of 10 onwards.
It emerged that The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a classic picture book by Eric Carle which charts a caterpillar’s week-long transformation into a butterfly, was one of the most popular books among 14- to 16-year-old girls in England.
The disclosure came as a separate study revealed classics such as Wuthering Heights and To Kill a Mockingbird had dropped out of a list of the top 10 most popular books for teenagers in a generation.
Data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealed teenagers dropped from 17th to 25th in a global league table, being outperformed by nations including Liechtenstein, Poland and Estonia.
Prof Keith Topping, from Dundee’s School of Education, said the latest study presented some “disturbing signs regarding [the] difficulty of books” compared with a previous report carried out a year earlier.
“Although in a small number of years the difficulty of books remained the same as our study in 2010, in the majority of years the difficulty of books has sharply declined,” he said.
The study, commissioned by education company Renaissance Learning, analysed the reading habits of 150,220 children in primary and secondary school.
Researchers logged the books chosen and quizzed pupils about their understanding of particular texts.
The study found that in the first four years of compulsory education pupils generally read books “above what would be age appropriate”.
Five of the six most popular books read by eight and nine-year-olds in the fourth year of school were by Roald Dahl. The most popular was The Magic Finger, followed by Fantastic Mr Fox, The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
By the time children reached Year 8 of school, four of these books were still among the most popular titles, although the top choice was Holes, the award-winning novel by Louis Sachar published in 1999.
In the final two years of school, boys and girls read books that were “well below what might be expected at this age”, the study said. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the 12th most popular book chosen by girls, while boys often favoured “very easy” books by Peter Lancett, the British-born thriller writer.
A separate study by pollsters Opinion Matters – to coincide with World Book Day on Thursday – revealed the Harry Potter series was now among the most popular books for 13- to 18-year-olds.
The survey, which also asked adults which books they favoured when they were teenagers, revealed The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, by Sue Townsend, was the most popular book a generation ago. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, was eighth and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, was 10th, although neither was favoured by modern teenagers.