Pupils reading 209,533 words a year each, but concerns remain about drop at secondary level

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The number of words children read every year begins to decline when they reach year 7 and continues to fall throughout much of secondary school, the annual What Kids Are Reading report has revealed.

The number of words children read every year begins to decline when they reach year 7 and continues to fall throughout much of secondary school, the annual What Kids Are Reading report has revealed.

The survey is based on the reading habits of 580,309 school children in more than 2,750 primary and secondary schools across the UK.

Compiled by Renaissance Learning, the data is based on quizzes taken by pupils after reading more then 9.3 million books. In total, this amounts to 121,591,815,854 words – or an average of 209,533 per student. The data shows that pupils are reading an increasing number of words as they progress through primary school, but that this number begins to fall as soon as they enter year 7 and continues to drop until year 10.

The report reveals that the average number of words read peaks in year 6 at 263,212 per pupil. This then drops in year 7 to 246,865 and by year 10 reaches 143,178 – comparable to a year 4 pupil.  

The report states: “Children suddenly stop reading as much when they transfer to secondary school, perhaps because they are given less time to read during the school day. By the time children are preparing to take their GCSEs, they are likely to read only as much as the average eight-year-old.“

The report also finds that primary children tended to go for more challenging books beyond their natural reading age, but that this changed for secondary students.

The report states: “The average book difficulty rises as students get older, arguably to year 11, but not in proportion to the rate at which the students should be improving in reading. It peaks in year 6 then plateaus until year 11, after which it declines. The plateau is troubling enough, but the decline in difficulty is very troubling. This means that older students are reading easier books than younger students.”

Author of the report, Professor Keith Topping, said: “Primary school pupils show a strong preference for challenging books which are significantly beyond their natural reading age. We then see a marked difference in year 7 where favoured books are no longer above chronological age, but six months below it and in ensuing years the difficulty of books plateaus or declines.”

The report also reveals notable differences between the books children are reading most in school and the titles they consider to be their favourites.

The secondary most-read list for 2015 is dominated by Jeff Kinney and his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. However, favourite titles for secondary students included The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling.

High-achieving students in years 7, 8 and 9 were most likely to be reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the report reveals, while the most popular books among struggling readers were David Orme’s Boffin Boy and the Forest of the Ninja in year 7, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules in year 8, and Robert Swindells’ Stone Cold in year 9.

When it came to non-fiction, the book Wayne Rooney by Roy Apps was most read in years 7, 8 and 9.

To access the full 2015 report and lists of most read and most popular books, visit www.whatkidsarereading.co.uk

Average words (and number of books) read per student

Year 1: 22,837, (19.4)
Year 2: 36,919, (25.6)
Year 3: 76,943, (27.2)
Year 4: 138,099, (25.3)
Year 5: 203,751, (21.3)
Year 6: 263,212, (16.3)
Year 7: 246,865, (11)
Year 8: 229,059, (8.3)
Year 9: 191,619, (6.5)
Year 10: 143,178, (5.2)
Year 11: 155,174, (4.9)
Year 12: 132,558, (5.8)
Year 13: 290,800, (12.1)

Most read books: Secondary

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney
  2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Jeff Kinney
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Jeff Kinney
  4. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck, Jeff Kinney 

Favourite books: Secondary

  1. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  2. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
  3. Divergent, Veronica Roth
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling
  5. Insurgent, Veronica Roth

Favourite books: Year 7

  1. Stirring the Storm, Ali Sparkes
  2. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
  3. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  4. Divergent, Veronica Roth
  5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling

Favourite books: Year 8

  1. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  2. Divergent, Veronica Roth
  3. City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare
  4. City of Glass, Cassandra Clare
  5. City of Fallen Angels, Cassandra Clare

Favourite books: Years 9 to 11

  1. City of Lost Souls, Cassandra Clare
  2. Brisingr, Christopher Paolini
  3. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  4. Divergent, Veronica Roth
  5. City of Bones, Cassandra Clare


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