Pupil progress in reading flatlines during the transition from primary to secondary school, according to research that has sparked calls for a restructure of class timetables to help reverse the trend.

The annual What Kids Are Reading (WKAR) report found children north of the Border saw an improvement in their skills and a marked uplift in enjoyment levels during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a further boost, pupils at primary level were consuming a larger variety of titles compared with their English counterparts.

Book reading difficulty level in Year 2 (P3) was at its highest for Scottish children, who were taking on texts almost two years ahead of their chronological age.

The report from Renaissance Learning also contains findings from a National Literacy Trust survey of 4,141 pupils across the UK.

These show three in five children said reading made them feel better during lockdown.

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In addition, 32 per cent revealed that delving into a book helped them when they were sad because they could not see friends or family.

More worryingly, the report indicates that progress plateaus in the transition to high school, with secondary pupils reading books of the same difficulty as those tackled by children in upper primary.

Professor Keith Topping, who is one of its authors and based at Dundee University’s School of Education and Social Work, said the trend could be observed across all UK nations and the Republic of Ireland.

“It’s certainly true that a lot of the reading ahead of one’s chronological age tends to happen in primary school,” he said.

“There are a number reasons for that. [In addition to competition from technology such as mobile phones and video games], secondary school life tends to be very pressured for children and young people, particularly those who are preparing for national exams. It means the books they choose to read are easier and more relaxing.”

HeraldScotland: Students in a Higher English class - but some researchers feel giving pupils more time in the school day for their own personal reading could provide a crucial literacy boost.Students in a Higher English class - but some researchers feel giving pupils more time in the school day for their own personal reading could provide a crucial literacy boost.

Professor Topping told The Herald that teachers should be encouraging pupils to tackle texts of greater difficulty but stressed there were significant challenges to overcome.

“The more a teacher tells pupils to do ‘x’, the more likely they are to do ‘y’,” he said.

“What you really want is for the teacher to be encouraging pupils who are keen readers, and who are similar to the pupils who need to receive the message, to recommend a book they’ve really enjoyed to their friends and peers.

“The problem for English teachers, of course, is that they’re working to a syllabus and they’ll be working with a defined list of set texts. And you then have the paradox in terms of the gulf between the set texts and what many pupils actually choose to read.

“And the other thing is that kids do not actually get to do that much reading, or do not get to read widely, in the course of following the curriculum. [The activity] tends be focused on paragraphs on a worksheet which are studied very painstakingly and in great depth.

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“One of the things I would advocate is giving pupils more free or personal reading time in school. The teachers, of course, will say, well, what do you want to leave out? But you have to think about those transferable skills that are going to be relevant to a pupil in later life, as opposed to subject-specific content knowledge which a child will learn for an exam and not use again.

“Reading is one of those transferable skills and I would argue there needs to be a shift in terms of timetabling classes and allocating learning time back towards the transferable skills.”

Renaissance director John Moore said: “Knowing reading really helped younger children to feel better through the pandemic is very encouraging. It’s promising that when pupils had a choice, many chose a more challenging book.”