Two young boys engrossed in reading a book for pleasure in a classroom.

Is Reading for Pleasure just another tool to improve SATs results?

SLS UKAdvice

Subject: Reading for Pleasure in schools

Age Group: Primary

Synopsis: All schools will have Reading for Pleasure as part of their literacy strategy, but how many are really promoting a reading for pleasure culture? Recent research by the Open University in conjunction with the UK Literacy Association show how important the ability to choose and read on your own terms is for children. It also makes recommendations about how schools can implement reading for pleasure pedagogy that promotes freedom to read, as well as enjoyment.

Kathryn Henderson
Durham Learning Resources

Librarian’s view:

Promoting a reading for pleasure culture in schools is key towards developing lifelong reader and particularly useful for children without a reading culture. This is why it is so important that schools do what they can to develop reading for pleasure, authentically, without the goals of the wider literacy strategy in mind, says Kathryn Henderson from Durham Learning Resources.

Hands up who’d love to spend more uninterrupted time with a good book? Many of us know the value of reading for pleasure and also how this impacts upon children’s reading ability, improves attainment in other subjects, as well as improving overall life chances.

The definition of a truly pleasurable activity for most would be something that we choose to do when we want, for as long as we want. But although a Reading for Pleasure plan is an integral element of any school literacy strategy, all too often external pressures from Ofsted and SATs mean that it becomes just another way to propel children along the reading and comprehension path, with rather less emphasis on pleasure.

While I’m sure most schools would love to give their children free time to read what they choose and when they feel like it, the reality is that this just does not always fit into the school day.

A recent research project between the Open University and UK Literacy Association has examined children’s and teachers’ reading lives and in response come up with effective ways to support Reading for Pleasure (RfP), including developing a pedagogy that combines a social reading environment, reading aloud, independent reading and informal book talk. All these strategies put emphasis on creating the time, space and opportunities to enjoy reading, with children’s engagement and choice being a key thread throughout. This means that independent-reading children are given the time and space to read what they want, however they want, even if they are in Year 6 and sharing a picture book with a friend, regardless of whether it’s well below their reading ability. Time to talk about the books and make recommendations is also identified as a key element.

Alongside this pedagogy the research emphasises the importance of teachers developing their own knowledge of children’s literature, which is often fairly limited and reliant on celebrity authors. The researchers argue that a well-informed teacher will then be better able to discuss and recommend books and authors.

The project also found that a teacher’s knowledge of their children’s reading practices was equally important, as this opened their eyes to other everyday reading the children were doing that they wouldn’t ordinarily have classed as reading – such as access to comics, social media and even takeaway menus. All this information helps teacher better understand the children’s likes and dislikes, and abilities, and therefore empowers them to be able to chat with more focus about their students’ reading as well as suggest similarly appealing reading.

Once again, this research project has emphasised that developing and encouraging reading for pleasure can only be truly effective if it is genuinely focused on reading for pleasure, and not for other gains.

For more information see Reading for pleasure: reviewing the evidence report, from Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour & Achievement, Coventry University,