Freeing up time for reading for pleasure would benefit those who need the most support

Jane Harley

Yesterday Oxford released the findings of a survey that sheds some concerning light on teachers’ perceptions of enjoying, and having conversations about stories in the classroom.

The survey of nearly 350 primary school teachers revealed that more than half those polled don’t have enough time to share and talk about books in the classroom – despite the importance they place on reading for pleasure.

While more than nine out of ten of the teachers agreed that reading for pleasure is essential to a student’s future success, more than a third said they believed having more time to dedicate to books would make the biggest difference to reading in their school.

In today’s world of standardised tests and targets, these results are not, perhaps, overly surprising. The stresses and strains of teachers’ lives have been well-documented through the government’s Workload Challenge Survey and subsequent reports. However, what I found particularly concerning from our survey was teachers’ perceptions of what is taking place outside the classroom and the challenges they face in compensating for this at school.

Nearly two thirds of teachers we spoke to thought that only half or fewer of their students read for pleasure outside of the classroom, and a third believed that greater parental involvement would make the biggest difference to promoting a love of reading.

This is troubling, particularly when we consider the evidence on reading for pleasure at home. Research such as BookTrust’s Reading Habits Reports routinely highlight that the enjoyment of reading is comparatively lower in less advantaged socio-economic groups, while last year’s ‘Read on Get On’ Campaign spearheaded by Save the Children outlined the reduced reading ability of children living in poverty.

If, as the teachers who we surveyed suggest, children from disadvantaged parts of our society are not reading for pleasure outside the classroom, particularly in their junior years, and the pressures of the current education system mean that there are limited opportunities within it, then there is a very real risk that children from these backgrounds will miss out on developing a passion for reading altogether. And yet these are the children we most need to engage to support their future success.

While we cannot expect teachers to single-handedly engender a love of reading in all their students, many of the teachers who responded to our survey highlighted the importance of their own teachers in developing their love of reading – suggesting they can certainly play a role.

Our findings do also give us some reasons to be positive. We were heartened that 90 per cent of teachers do still make time for up to two hours of independent, whole class, and guided reading each week – even if in more than half of cases, this does not involve in-depth discussions about books.

To support them, we publish advice on Oxford Owl on developing an Outstanding Reading School, and have launched, under the series editorship of master storyteller, Michael Morpurgo, TreeTops Greatest Stories, designed to give teachers and children access to a rich diet of some of the best classic stories to fire their imagination and stimulate ideas and discussion.

But resources and training can only go so far. As an education community, we need to think long and hard about how about how we best support teachers to be able to free up time to have quality conversations about books. In doing so, we will help them to pass on the passion for reading – and ensure those who need it the most don’t miss out.

Jane Harley is Strategy Director for the education division at Oxford University Press