The importance of reading

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This is Coach D. It is 17.59 and I am travelling by train from Birmingham to Harrogate, writes Harrogate Grammar School Associate Headteacher Neil Renton.

Looking around me, I see some people reading, more people texting and someone next to me with his foot on the chair.

Having just finished reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, snatching a few pages a night during term time, and having spent the day pitching for funding to construct a website to raise awareness of the impact of reading age on the future success of a child, I have decided to spend my journey home observing others.

Habits, behaviours and attitudes puzzle and intrigue me. At the moment, I am thinking about why some students are more productive than others?

What factors affect productivity and what would learning look like if we could lift the productivity of children in our schools by 1, 5 or 10 per cent?

One factor affecting productivity has to be a child’s reading age; yet we seem, as a nation, to have this nailed only in primary education.

The recent international tables for reading ability indicate that we are ranked joint eighth out of 50 other participating countries, with UK children scoring the same as their peers in Norway and Taiwan.

This looks to me like a beautiful unicorn, but if progress stagnates and children read less in secondary schools, we don’t have a unicorn, but a horse with a horn on its head. 

By the age of 14-16, research from the National Literacy Trust indicates that 53 per cent of girls and 35 per cent of boys enjoy reading.

Children, who at 14 say they enjoy reading, have a reading age of 15. Compare this with those of the same age who do not enjoy reading; they have a reading age of 12. So what and why does this matter sir? 

It matters because the access reading age for GCSEs of 14/15 may well be a barrier for some children. Furthermore, there appears to be significant evidence that reading age is closely linked with future well-being and even economic success.

With this in mind, and the advice of an inspirational leader that sometimes ‘we need to step outside of school to work on school’, the leadership teams of two schools in the Red Kite Learning Trust, stepped outside of school last weekend and generated 50 ideas to develop reading age in our secondary schools.

This work, combined with our recent assessment of reading age across the schools, and the daily practice of our teachers and regular reading at home, will ensure that we do our very best for children in our community.

One of the secrets revealed in Tools of Titans is the simple power of routine. Still puzzled by the factors affecting productivity as Yorkshire appears on the horizon, I ask, what would student productivity and schools look like if we could enthuse students to read for pleasure for 30 minutes per day throughout their secondary education? Easy. Young people would have amassed nearly 1000 hours of reading in the secondary phase before 16 and that, to me, is no horse with a horn on its head, but the most impressive unicorn. 

Neil Renton is the Associate Headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School, part of the Red Kite Learning Trust.

He will deliver the welcome presentation at the Sixth Form Open Afternoon at Harrogate Grammar School on Saturday February 3, 2-4pm.