Irish children’s reading skills improved during the Covid-19 lockdown with many picking up longer books of greater difficulty, new research shows.
The study also indicates there was a marked uplift in reading enjoyment levels during the pandemic.
The findings are contained in the annual What Kids Are Reading report, which tracks the reading habits of more than one million pupils in the UK and Ireland. It is compiled by Renaissance Learning, an online testing programme used in many schools.
It indicates that primary school children in the Republic were reading a wider variety of books which, in some cases, were 2½ years above their chronological age. This was significantly higher than any of the other jurisdictions surveyed, including Northern Ireland.
The report suggests this may be linked to differences in teaching at primary level between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
While it says there is an emphasis on reading “hard” books in the early years of primary in the Republic, the levels of difficulty at this stage in the North are much lower. However, by the time secondary education comes around, many of these differences seem to have been levelled out and children are reading material at a similar level of difficulty.
Overall, the number of books read among children dropped compared with previous years, but the young people were reading more challenging books.
JK Rowling dominated the leaderboard of most popular books at primary level as pupils continued to pick up the Harry Potter series. Other popular authors at primary included David Walliams, Julia Donaldson and Roald Dahl.
At second level the most popular book was One of Us is Lying by Karen M McManus. Other popular authors at secondary school included Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan and Philip Pulman.
Renaissance director John Moore said reading had helped many children's sense of wellbeing while isolated from the wider world.
“Knowing that reading really helped younger children to feel better throughout the pandemic is very encouraging. It’s promising to see that when pupils had a choice of books to hand, many chose a more challenging book, and one that perhaps allows for more escapism.”
Creative school projects
Separately, Irish schools are being invited to apply for funding to work together on creative projects ranging from cartoons to coding.
Successful applicants will receive up to €15,000 in funding to help bring their ideas to fruition, along with access to a specialist facilitator or artist in their chosen area of interest.
The Creative Clusters initiative – which forms part of the Government’s Creative Ireland programme – aims to give children the opportunity to realise their full creative potential.
A total budget of almost €600,000 is being provided for the school initiative this year. Minister for Education Norma Foley has invited applications from both primary and secondary schools. The application process runs until May 14th, 2021.
Favourite books in school during last year's lockdown
1. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
2. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling
3. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
1. One of Us Is Lying – Karen M McManus
2. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
3, Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins