Study finds Covid-related drop in school literacy levels

Wed 08 December, 2021
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Research conducted by the University of Bedfordshire in partnership with Schoolreaders shows that literacy levels of most primary school pupils have been adversely impacted by disruptions to learning caused by Covid-19.

The new findings come from a survey of school teachers carried out by educational charity Schoolreaders, which provides primary schools with volunteers who offer face-to-face support to pupils learning to read. With help from the University’s Institute for Research in Education (IRED), the study showed that Covid-19 lockdowns, school closures and the switch to home learning have had a negative effect on the literacy levels of 90% of primary school children across the UK.

In particular, 78% of schools flagged reading as an area for concern in the school development plan, while 89% of teachers interviewed during the study claimed there was a greater need for Schoolreaders’ volunteers to help their pupils catch up compared to pre-pandemic.

Professor Andy Goodwyn, Head of School of Education & English Language and Director of IRED, says revisions made to the charity’s survey with the help of IRED have helped improved findings and shape the way the charity can work. He said:

“I have been working with Schoolreaders since they first contacted me around four years ago, asking for advice in improving their approach to how they evaluate the important work they do.

“Each year we help Schoolreaders review and improve their surveys, which are vital to finding out how effective their volunteers are at helping children with their literacy. This has helped them gather valuable feedback and enabled them to grow their reach and reputation – having started with a few schools in Bedford they now help children across the country. I’m really glad that expertise from the University has been useful for this excellent charity.”

Indications from schools’ reading assessments are that Key Stage 1 pupils (5 to 7-year-olds) were the most negatively impacted, with 44% of pupils behind expected literacy levels. 71% of these children had been set back in their reading age by three months or more, with over a third of teachers suggesting their KS1 pupils would not catch up until spring 2022 at the earliest.

Professor Andrew Church, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research & Innovation at Bedfordshire, is proud of how the University has helped Schoolreaders analyse their survey results. He says this project embodies IRED’s commitment to fostering long-lasting relationships with partner organisations, in order to support high-quality research and influence industry policy. He said:

“I take great pride in the research carried out at our University and am particularly pleased when we are able to influence policy and make tangible differences in the real world. The way IRED’s expertise has been put to use by Schoolreaders over the past four years is an excellent example of the type of impact we want to have in our area and beyond.”

Jane Whitbread, founder of Schoolreaders, commented: “Teachers and children have lived through an unprecedented and turbulent time which will have consequences long into the future unless literacy is prioritised now.

“We need to rally round as a community to help our children catch-up and give them more opportunities to read to adults aiding their comprehension, fluency and enjoyment of reading; working in partnership towards a time when all children leave primary school being able to read well.”

The Schoolreaders State of Primary School Reading Survey was conducted in August and September 2021.

For more information about the Institute for Research in Education, visit the IRED website.


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