School pupils in Scotland and Northern Ireland have the joint-highest level of reading comprehension among the home nations, according to a new literacy study.
The annual What Kids Are Reading report is compiled by data from assessment provider Renaissance UK and was analysed by the University of Dundee.
It found Scottish pupils had the highest comprehension, but read the least difficult books on average.
Analysis of the difficulty of books and a level of comprehension indicated a “clear formula for literacy success – reading practice, reading for pleasure, and appropriate challenge of books”.
Renaissance is now calling on teachers and librarians to ensure pupils are reading books of an appropriate challenge to help develop literacy skills.
James Bell, Renaissance director of professional services, said: “Literacy is at the heart of every successful education. Reading is fundamental to a broad range of subjects.
“Children need to understand the exam paper they’re facing, whether that’s maths, science, or history.
“It’s great to see that Scottish pupils are reading books with greater understanding. However, they still have some way to go if they’re going to climb up the international rankings.
“This study shows that reading motivation, appropriate reading challenge and reading practice is the key to literacy success.
“We have to make sure that children are both challenged and charmed by the books they read.”
Reading for pleasure was a key finding of the report which indicated pupils’ favourite books were read with better comprehension, even when considered to be of greater difficulty.
The report also found JK Rowling continues to dominate primary school children’s favourite book choices, with her seven Harry Potter novels taking the top seven spots.
Other authors enjoyed by young people in the last academic year include Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series), David Walliams and Roald Dahl.
Professor Keith Topping from the university said: “This report gets under the skin of children’s reading habits in the UK, and the results are eye-opening. It’s great to see that Scottish pupils are at the top of the table in reading comprehension.
“We can now see that balancing the three factors of appropriate reading challenge, reading practice, and reading motivation is fundamental for children’s reading progress.
“Although important, instilling reading culture in schools isn’t just about dedicated reading time.
“Teachers and librarians should also encourage lively classroom discussion about fiction, with children sharing favourite authors and titles.
“They should also be on hand to advise on books with appropriate challenge bespoke to the child’s interests.
“And of course, it is important to encourage children to read outside of school, so letting them take books home is crucial.”