Jessie Ricketts, Dr Laura Shapiro Written evidence (EDU0055)


This evidence is submitted by Professor Jessie Ricketts and Dr Laura Shapiro in an individual capacity. We are world-renowned researchers with expertise in secondary reading. Here we present evidence from our research, along with implications for education and educational policy.

Supporting reading in secondary school: Research evidence and implications for education and policy

1. Background: Most people think of reading as something that is achieved in primary school. This is not the case: reading skills develop in important ways in secondary school when students can benefit from engagement with a rich array of literary texts. Further, we know that around 17% of children leave secondary school with poor reading skills, due either to poor reading foundations or decreased motivation for independent reading. Thus, there is a pressing need to understand how to support reading in secondary school.

2. Research context: Research on reading in secondary school is emerging and we have contributed to this literature with findings from research that explores how reading proficiency varies in adolescents, the changes in reading proficiency that occur in adolescence, the nature of reading needs for those who are struggling with reading, and the drivers of reading progress and reading difficulties (Ricketts et al., 2020; van der Kleij et al., 2022; van der Kleij et al., 2023).

3. Key research findings and educational implications 1: Reading proficiency amongst secondary students is extremely variable. This presents a challenge for teachers in ensuring that all students are able to engage with the curriculum at a level that aligns with their knowledge and skills. We need to ensure that teachers have knowledge of the reading abilities of students in their classroom and that they receive continuing professional development that focuses on reading.

4. Key research findings and educational implications 2: There are high levels of reading and vocabulary need in secondary school, especially for students from lower SES backgrounds. Therefore, we can’t assume that all students can follow classroom input and discussions, and access written materials. We recommend a two-step process of screening and diagnostic assessment (Ricketts et al., 2022) to identify reading needs and match them to targeted intervention approaches, as well as meeting their needs through the universal offer. Children from lower SES backgrounds are more likely to have reading and vocabulary needs that require support.

5. Key research findings and educational implications 3: Reading comprehension skills depend on students’ spoken language, word reading proficiency and the amount of reading activity they engage in. We need to support spoken language, promote word reading proficiency and encourage more reading in secondary students so that they can read with comprehension. Reading with comprehension is essential for learning, reading for pleasure and many aspects of everyday life in adolescence and adulthood.

6. Key research findings and educational implications 4: There is no evidence of a transition ‘slump’ (decline) in reading as students move from primary to secondary school. This suggests that the challenge of transition to secondary school may be more about adapting to a new environment, with new demands on reading, rather than an indication of any decline in students’ knowledge and skills. We need approaches that support this transition, that draw on the expertise of both primary and secondary teachers.

7. Priorities for schools: The research evidence has highlighted the need for careful monitoring of reading skills in late primary and secondary school, especially for students from lower SES backgrounds. This will ensure that needs can be identified with precision and aligned with targeted support and interventions. Specifically, a combination of screening and diagnostic assessments should be used to identify reading needs confidently and with precision, so that they can be aligned carefully with the type of support and intervention that is required (for more discussion of this, see Ricketts et al., 2022). We need school literacy strategies in secondary schools that integrate approaches to support reading proficiency with a rich reading culture that enables reading for pleasure (McGeown et al., 2023).

8. Priorities for educational policy: The research evidence indicates key priorities for curriculum change and funding for schools. The primary English curriculum focuses on literacy knowledge and skills, whereas the emphasis shifts to English as a discipline in the secondary curriculum. Policy-level change is needed to promote more continuity in curricula and expectations across primary and secondary settings. In addition, funding is needed to ensure that the secondary curriculum is complemented by robust approaches to identifying and supporting reading and language needs in secondary school.

9. Link to Lords Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee priorities: Our evidence links to several of the priorities set out in this inquiry. In particular:


10. References to our research:


28 April 2023