Students 'seriously under-challenged' by the books they are given at school, study claims

The survey found pupils prefer books that have been turned into movies

Secondary school pupils are being  “seriously under-challenged” by the difficulty of the books they are given to read and teachers must do more to encourage students to read demanding literature, according to a study.

A nationwide survey of more than 500,000 pupils at 2,200 schools found that children consistently choose texts beyond their reading age while in primary education but the trend is thrown into reverse as soon as they transfer to secondary school.

The annual What Kids Are Reading study of books read in schools found that youngsters preferred fiction that had been turned into blockbuster films such as the Hunger Games series rather than traditional favourites by authors such as Roald Dahl.

The finding suggests a disconnect between what pupils are reading in the classroom - where the adventures of Fantastic Mr Fox and the Wimpy Kid remain popular - and the tales they say excite them, such as the dystopian fantasies of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series and Veronica Roth’s Divergent novels.

The study, based on the results from software used by schools to assess pupils’ comprehension of classroom texts, found evidence that the emphasis placed on raising reading levels in primary schools falls away in later years, when youngsters tend to opt for books below their reading age.

Professor Keith Topping, an education specialist at Dundee University and the author of the report, said: “Primary school pupils, particularly in Years One to Five, show a strong preference for challenging books which are significantly beyond their natural reading age.

“We then see a marked difference in Year Seven 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.”

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Older children prefer to read novels that have been adapted by Hollywood such as ‘The Hunger Games’ (Entertainment One)

In its recommendations, the study said there was a “marked downturn” in the difficulty of books once children move to secondary school and both high-ability and struggling readers in particular are “seriously under-challenged”. It added: “Secondary teachers and librarians need to get better at encouraging children appropriately.”

The survey by software company Renaissance Learning contrasted the rankings for the “most read” books given to children in schools, which were dominated by Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and Roald Dahl, and the “most popular”, in which students chose the texts that enthused them most.

In this second category, the overwhelming favourite for primary school children was Demon Dentist by comedian and author David Walliams, while secondary students voted for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which has recently been made into a film. The trend for fiction given the Hollywood treatment continued with the Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Divergent series also featuring strongly.

The 2015 rankings also saw the works of JR Tolkien falling out of the top 20 for the first time. But the authors of the study noted that children seemed equally happy with classic and contemporary fiction with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, published in 1960, featuring alongside more recent texts.

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