Fifteen-year-old pupils whose carers read books with them during their first year of primary school score higher in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA
) tests which take place every three years.
PISA tests do more than just test reading, maths and science. They asked teachers, pupils and parents questions to discover what factors affect how well children do. In 2009, PISA focussed on reading and found that a child’s reading skill was improved:
1 When carers read books with them often (weekly or daily);
2 When carers discussed books, films or TV programmes often (weekly or daily);
3 When carers discussed how well the children were doing at school;
4 When the family ate main meals together at a table;
5 When carers discussed political or social issues often (weekly or daily).
PISA found that pupils were never too old to benefit from these activities. None of them needed specialist knowledge and only one, the provision of books, required some financial investment although regular visits to libraries could reduce such spending.
report on the teaching of reading in Europe endorsed the importance of parental involvement. It concluded:
1 Parents who enjoy reading are more likely to pass on enthusiasm for reading to their children. An environment which encourages reading extends beyond the home – to friends, relatives, libraries and so on.
2 Talking about letter sounds, the alphabet and words is more effective than just listening to children read.
3 Reading text on a computer can increase reading proficiency but not as much as reading printed material. However, it can increase motivation. (Note: the report was published before widespread uptake of e-readers.)
4 Watching educational TV had a positive effect on comprehension but watching entertainment programmes had a negative influence.
5 Being surrounded by children’s books had a positive effect.
6 Teenagers who regularly read fiction, magazines, newspapers and nonfiction tend to be better readers. Reading comics is not generally associated with better reading although comic books can inspire reluctant readers to try other reading material.
PISA and Eurydice concluded that teachers, schools and governments need to consider how they could best help busy parents play a more active role in their children’s education. In some countries there are national literacy schemes which promote reading. In this country the Bookstart
scheme gives books to children at key points in their lives but the Government proposed cutting its funding at the end of 2010. It was only after a national outcry that funding was reinstated but at a much reduced amount. Libraries play a central role in the promotion of reading skills. Again, in this country investment in libraries is much reduced and many local libraries are closing.
Carers are an invaluable and under-used resource for encouraging reading. Governments have a crucial role in developing the skills of carers, not just parents, but grand-parents, older siblings, day-care staff, adult volunteers and so on. £18 million
has been spent already on the legalities surrounding academy conversion. This money could have been much better spent on promoting enthusiasm for reading.