Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom

Or does it?

This recent study, by the Institute of Eduction at the University of London, on the face of it is simple: in a study, kids who read for pleasure do better at maths. The study is based upon an ongoing study and data collection exercise for what is known as the “1970 cohort” – a large set of children born in 1970.

But I would argue that the study was not proper research. It’s very interesting: it would, for instance, have been fascinating to learn that those who did not read at all, or did not like to read, were better at maths. That would imply that an ability in mathematics was, for some reason, not compatible with a love of books. That would be worthy of further study: are there certain kinds of books which would lead to better maths scores? Would it be better to restrict children’s maths activities in order to encourage reading?

But, actually, what the study shows is what we would expect: that bright, inquisitive kids like to read, like to explore there world and, in consequence, understand things better. This therefore comes out in their maths abilities.

What the study doesn’t show, yet newspapers up and down the country now appear to be suggesting, is that reading more will make you better at maths. Those who read for pleasure are more likely to be good at maths. Those who do not read for pleasure are more likely to be poorer at maths. Those statements are supported by the facts, but the statement: “Those who do not read for pleasure will do better at maths if they read more” is not.

It might be true, but the study doesn’t show it.

To make any headway on this one, then, needs further study – for instance, taking a group of kids who do not read much for pleasure and trying to encourage them to do so whilst leaving a second group alone. This begs the question: can you actually encourage kids to read for pleasure – or indeed encourage anyone to do anything for pleasure? Or is it a self-driven thing.

Anyway, my point is that this study really tells us nothing useful although it could lead to further useful work. It certainly doesn’t give us a panacea to low maths scores, as the popular press seem to wish us to believe. No doubt Michael Gove’s next policy will be increased reading activity in the national curriculum…