Social inclusion and reading: an exploration

Social inclusion and reading

What the resource is:
This resource is a paper written on behalf of the National Literacy Trust which analyses the findings of a survey of children's reading habits and specifically children's reading enjoyment, in the light of their social context.  It discusses the social and educational benefits for children who choose to read for pleasure at home and the potential longer term issues for children who are neither motivated nor encouraged to read at home.  An argument is put forward for the role of reading at home in promoting both educational achievement and social inclusion.

The paper is an analysis and discussion of the results of a survey of children's reading habits and looks specifically at the relationship between the children's responses and their socio-economic background (as measured by the self-reported uptake of free school meals).  It also analyses the data in terms of the difference in responses between boys and girls.  The children who undertook the self-reported questionnaire were between 5 and 17 years old, the majority being either 12 or 13.  The data is analysed under the headings:

  • Reading enjoyment
  • Resources in the home
  • Literacy interactions in the home
  • Attitudes to reading
  • Reading promotion.


The aims of the resource:
The resource aims to highlight the links between reading for pleasure and educational achievement and social inclusion.  It suggests ways in which schools can help to promote reading at home and encourage children to become enthusiastic readers.


Key findings or focus:
The paper offers detailed statistical analysis of the survey and highlights some specific findings.  Throughout it is clear that children who received free school meals, and particularly boys, were less likely to read for pleasure at home; enjoyed reading less; were more likely to consider themselves less confident readers; were less likely to be encouraged to read at home by a parent or carer; were less likely to see their parents reading at home and had less resources for reading available to them (including access to a computer).  Children having free school meals were more likely to give ‘to get a job' as a reason for reading, than ‘it's fun' - the converse was true for those not receiving free school meals.
In the discussion the authors cite a range of research which highlights the links between poor achievement in school in the basic skills and later social exclusion.  Poor achievement in reading in school is linked to lack of enjoyment in reading which in turn is linked to reading for pleasure out of school.
The recommendations of the paper focus on developing a school culture to promote reading enjoyment, the targeted provision of resources and opportunities for reading within the community, and consideration for the support of parents in encouraging reading at home.


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource:
The arguments put forward in the analysis and discussion of the data draw on a strong body of research into reading and social exclusion/inclusion and the recommendations provide appropriate starting points for schools in developing reading communities.
The original questionnaire is not provided in the paper but the concepts of ‘reading' and ‘literacy' appear to be broadly defined. A strength of the paper is that the recommendations refer to a ‘range of reading materials' including comics and websites rather than storybooks alone. Nevertheless, the variety of home literacy practices in lower socio-economic groups can sometimes be underestimated. It is important that children have opportunities to read good quality literature, but equally important to value the range of ‘real reading' with which children may engage at home and elsewhere.
The recommendation to support parents specifically argues that this must involve parents ‘in ways they value' - not by imposing school values and practices in the home. 
Crucially, the authors acknowledge the limitations of using take up of free school meals as an indicator of socio-economic background and this must be taken into account throughout the analysis of the data.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
The significance of developing life-long readers rather than children who can read can be considered and discussed.  Students may need support in order to understand their role in developing attitudes to reading alongside the teaching of specific reading skills. Since the Rose Review (2006) there has been a great deal of emphasis on the role of phonics in the development of reading.  If the teaching of phonics is delivered in a way which compromises children's reading enjoyment there could be longer term consequences which are as yet unforeseen.  Many researchers have found that being able to read does not mean that children choose to do so for themselves.  Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds who know how to read and choose not to, may not necessarily be significantly better off in the long term than if they have poorer reading skills. 
Students can be encouraged to reflect critically on how parents are asked to encourage their children to read at home.  Does current practice emphasise enjoyment?


The relevance to ITE students:
Students who are training to teach have to consider carefully how they approach the teaching of reading in order to develop enthusiastic readers who choose to read at school, at home and elsewhere.  This paper will help them reflect on the role of being able to read, not as an end in itself but as part of the bigger picture of reading as a socio-cultural phenomenon that could have a potentially significant impact on children's lives.


Reviewed by:
Rebecca Austin

Rose, J. (2006) Independent Review of the teaching of Early Reading