Education bosses are warning action is needed to close the gap after new figures showed Doncaster children lagging behind in reading at age 11.
A report to Doncaster Council’s schools children and young people’s overview and scrutiny board warns this year’s results show they need to target reading among seven to 11-year-olds.
It states: “Nationally, there was 66 per cent of pupils achieving at least the expected standard whereas in Doncaster there was a smaller proportion of pupils achieving this measure at 58 per cent.”
“The 2016 results have reaffirmed the need to place additional focus on reading.”
Officials are now urging councillors to place additional focus on reading in order to help more pupils reach the expected standards.
The largest disparity between Doncaster’s and the national average is in pupils with English as an additional language, with a 17 percentage point difference.
But one experienced Doncaster headteacher said children’s reading ability has not any worse.
Conisborough Ivanhoe Primary Academy headteacher Joe Brian, said the poor figures were a result of changes to the SATS test, but he was confident that schools and their pupils would adapt.
“At our school we went from having test results that showed 100 per cent passing, or at least somewhere in the nineties, to 65 per cent passing in 2016. That was not because the children got any worse at reading, but because the bar for passing the test was raised.
“The test in itself became harder and the pass rate was also raised. Teachers and pupils need time to get used to this new way of testing.
“I am not shocked or upset that our results have gone down. As headteachers we live with change and we have to respond to it. There are extra demands on the children to achieve a certain reading ability now, it’s been a radical change and it will take some time but we will adapt. It will be the same for all schools.
“As schools get used to the change I am sure the test results will raise in the next few years. Schools and children are resilient, we can cope with change it will just take some time.”
He added that he thinks all schools should do more to encourage children to read more.
“We have had more focus on reading, particularly at home. We have introduced an initiative where if children spend time reading to an adult at home they are given a bookmark on a sticker.
“The stickers then covert in to credits which can be spent on things in our shop, such as pens, pencil cases or drinks bottles. We also have teddy bears which take more credits, but children can get one a term if they read often enough.
“I think everybody should encourage children to read more, but it’s not just about passing tests, reading is an important life skill. We want children to enjoy reading for pleasure, it enriches their quality of life. A whole new world opens up when you learn to read.”
Damian Allen, Director of Learning Opportunity and Skills, said they had recently launched a reading scheme which had been very popular.
“We are aware that we need to improve our reading and we have developed a Raising Achievement Initiative which places additional focus on this area.
“We have recently launched the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and the exceptional take up shows the appetite for reading is growing across the borough. We have also seen strong progress in phonics which is the foundation of developing reading skills.
“Last year our focus was on writing which made a real difference and by concentrating on reading this year we are expecting a similar improvement for all pupils across the borough.”