Logo for school storytime, emphasizing the importance of reading for pleasure.

The Importance of Reading for Pleasure – Farshore School Research Project

SLS UKAdvice

Subject: Storytimes for older pupils

Focus: Reading for Pleasure 

Age Group: KS2

Synopsis: A look at how reading aloud for 20 minutes a day can impact positivity towards reading and improved attainment in reading and comprehension.

Nina Simon

Nina Simon
Redbridge SLS

Librarian’s view:

I still remember being read to as a child at school, something that never happened at home as my parents simply didn’t have time. It was interesting that before the project, teachers felt guilty about taking time out of the curriculum to read to pupils yet the impact of 20 minutes shows it should be an integral part of the school day and the DfE Reading framework backs this up.

Cover of the farshore storytime trial, bringing school and reading pleasure together.

Farshore Storytime Trial Reseach Report

According to the recent DfE Reading Framework (July 2023), core strategies to encourage sustained, voluntary reading include adults reading aloud regularly, including in class or form time.

The framework states that as with younger children, reading aloud to older pupils is a key way of supporting their development as readers, ‘even though pupils can now read independently’.  Teachers should consider providing story time for every key stage 2 class, at least four times a week for 20 minutes. Daily ‘story time’ might sometimes be viewed as an indulgence at key stages 2 and 3 or it can find itself being squeezed or skipped to accommodate other demands. However, if done well, it is a powerful driver for improving pupils’ reading and all-round education, as well as having a positive impact on their social and emotional well-being. It can also be a time of genuine enjoyment for the whole class, a shared experience sparking reflection and discussion.

A recent Farshore Storytime in School research project set out to test the impact of daily storytime at school on children’s interest in reading and their motivations to read for pleasure. Their initial data suggested that nationally, only 24% of children 7–10 years old are read to daily at school, purely for enjoyment. Their hypothesis was:

Daily storytime in school can change the atmosphere around reading if there is no formal teaching attached to it, no pressure and there are no expectations. With the focus on enjoyment, children will start to think of reading as something pleasurable and aspirational. It will become something that they will choose to do.

Who took part?

• 20 primary schools in England
• Children aged 7–10 (Year 3, 4 and 5)
• Circa 3000 children and 86 teachers

What happened?

Teachers were asked to allocate 20 minutes to storytime every day during the spring term 2023.

Importantly, there was to be no ‘teaching’ attached to this daily session: no worksheets, no testing, no follow-up learning activities or tasks.

Each school was given 200 new books (fiction and non-fiction), 100 from Farshore and 100 from HarperCollins Children’s Books, as both stimulus for the project and a thank you for taking part.  Teachers were asked to allow the children to choose what was read to them.

Data collection

• Questionnaires pre- and post-trial, from teachers and from pupils.
• Interviews with teachers after the project in six of the schools.
• Reading and comprehension attainment evaluated pre- and post-trial among Year 4 using the latest edition of Hodder Education’s standardised Salford Sentence Reading and Comprehension Test.

Sample sizes

• 86 teachers completed the questionnaire pre-trial and 67 post-trial
• 2354 pupils returned questionnaires pre-trial and 1558 post-trial
• Reading attainment data for 724 pupils in Year 4
• Comprehension attainment data for 695 pupils in Year 4

Key findings  

Increased enthusiasm and positivity towards books and reading
At the start of the trial only 13% of children reported being read to at home by their parents ‘every day’ and 25% said ‘a few times a week’ or ‘once a week’. It’s perhaps not surprising that children found being read to at school every day was enjoyable. They became increasingly enthusiastic, so much so that at the end of the trial, 77% of children said they wanted storytime to continue (80% of Year 3, 78% of Year 4 and 73% of Year 5).

Increased attainment in both reading and comprehension
The exposure to more books and different kinds of books provided gateways to more reading and greater understanding. 65 of 67 teachers noted children’s ability to concentrate during storytime sessions increased.

Reading attainment Year 4
18 schools submitted reading age standardised scores for their Year 4 children (results for 724 children). All 18 schools found the average reading attainment across the sample increased from ‘average/age appropriate’ to ‘well above average’.  The median gain in reading age across the sample was 7 months and the average gain was just under 12 months. 36% of the children gained more than 13 months on their pre-trial reading age.

Comprehension attainment Year 4
17 schools submitted comprehension attainment data for their Year 4 children (results for 695 children).

All 17 schools saw their average scores for comprehension go up over the duration of the trial.  

Schools saw a shift towards ‘excellence’. At the start of the trial, 49% of the sample was deemed ‘well above average/excellent’; at the end of the trial this had gone up to 60%. Three schools saw a shift from ‘average’ to ‘well above average’. There were considerable variances across the 17 schools, with some scoring below the ‘average performance’ score band for the national standardisation sample for children of this age, and others already scoring in the ‘well above average’ band at the start of the trial. However, every school showed a shift towards a higher performing band.

There were some exceptional changes:

One school, with 59% Pupil Premium, went from 4% to 52% of their pupils scoring ‘excellent’.

Another school, with 31% Pupil Premium and 69% English as Additional Language, rose from 29% to 61% scoring ‘excellent’.

Another school, with 26% Pupil Premium, increased from 7% to 21% scoring ‘excellent’. Storytime in School 9 Others saw the biggest increase in the percentage scoring in the ‘higher average’ bands.

In one school, with 43% Pupil Premium and 57% English as Additional Language, none of their pupils achieved in the ‘higher average’ band at the start, but by the end 24% were deemed ‘higher average’

Improved well-being among children and their teachers
Teachers and pupils believed that storytime had boosted children’s mental well-being and supported the development of social skills. Teachers frequently commented on the calming effect of storytime, that it allowed children to focus, for example, it was helpful to settle and calm them for the afternoon, ready for their learning. The feeling of being ‘calm’ in turn allowed them to inhabit their own imaginations more freely, for example, the children made a ‘shift’ to reading books without pictures and creating their own pictures in their minds instead. Storytime was a gateway for children to explore their own emotions, boosting their empathy for their classmates. Several said they believed that their children were more emotionally literate by the end of the trial. Storytime was also a bonding experience for many, with teachers saying it had strengthened their relationship with their pupils.

Children’s self-reported feedback corroborates this finding. When asked, at the end of the trial, whether they agreed that ‘storytime makes me feel calm’, 65% of boys and 76% of girls agreed.

Most teachers plan to continue with storytime
It wasn’t just the children who benefitted from storytime. Teachers said that they loved doing it too, and 61 of the 67 teachers who completed the end-of-trial questionnaire said they plan to continue. However, teachers talked of the difficulty of finding a place for it in the packed curriculum and that prior to the study many felt pressured, wanting to read to the children but feeling unable to fit it in or justify the time. Many said they felt guilty if they did spend time reading aloud to the children. When setting up this trial, it was emphasised that storytime should be daily and for 20 minutes. We found that setting these parameters enabled teachers to deliver storytime. This project in effect gave them permission to make time in the day.

It was also clear that storytime must be consistent to be effective and that doing it every day is absolutely key to its success and impact.

As objects in themselves, new books were highly valued, and this is to be expected. But having them delivered as a marker and precursor to the term of storytime multiplied their impact further. Their arrival was an unusual and special event. The psychological impact on the children of their arrival and knowing they would be read to was huge. The new books, the children’s involvement through having the opportunity to choose what was read to them, the sense of agency this brought and the ‘down time’ of daily storytime all contributed to children having a wholly different idea about reading. It was thought of with positivity: great excitement, anticipation and enthusiasm. As one teacher said: reading for pleasure became significant and not incidental. 61 of 67 teachers said there was more discussion about books in the classroom.

Other schools considering starting storytime in the classroom may not have the opportunity of 200 free books donated by publishers as offered in this project but a subscription to your local SLS can provide that same excitement when boxes of quality, up-to-date books arrive in the classroom each term.  
Resources Highlighted
The full research paper can be found at https://www.farshore.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/46/2023/09/Farshore_Storytime-in-Schools_Whitepaper_FINAL.pdf