Research School Network: Tutor Reading: The challenge of developing reading at secondary school Part 1 of our latest blog series asks ​‘If Tutor Reading is the answer, what is the question?’


Tutor Reading: The challenge of developing reading at secondary school

Part 1 of our latest blog series asks ​‘If Tutor Reading is the answer, what is the question?’

In recent years, a growing number of schools have introduced Tutor Reading as part of the morning tutor time routine, alongside or replacing more familiar registration activities.

In several large MATs, including The Greenshaw Learning Trust, Ormiston Trust and the David Ross Education Trust, daily tutor reading plays an important role in the life of their schools.

Whilst the way these programmes are run varies between each school – such as how many books are read, what type, how often and for how long – the central premise is the same: pupils are read to on a regular basis by their form tutors.

But if replacing traditional registration with tutor time reading is the answer, then what exactly is the question? In other words, what is the problem that regular reading by a tutor to a group of 30 or so pupils is attempting to solve?

Why Tutor Reading?

In many ways the answer is obvious. In 2022, fewer than 1 in 2 children between the ages of 8 and 18 said they enjoyed reading for pleasure, a figure that is even lower for pupils in receipt of free school meals.

In 2022, fewer than 1 in 2 children between the ages of 8 and 18 said they enjoyed reading for pleasure

The introduction of a tutor time reading programme therefore seems like an easy way to get more pupils reading, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Reading also makes a big difference to pupils’ attainment, not just in subjects you might expect. Research by GL Assessment showed strong correlations between reading ability and GCSE attainment across the curriculum, including in science, maths and geography. Reading appears to make you smarter, so anything that improves it further would seem to be a good thing.

Developing pupils’ literacy isn’t only about helping them to do better in their exams, though. It is also about moral purpose and a form of social justice. Literacy levels are strongly associated with a wide range of social, economic and health benefits, and so improving pupils’ reading is likely to be an investment in their long-term wellbeing and happiness.

Improving pupils’ reading is likely to be an investment in their long-term wellbeing and happiness.

So, in theory at least, introducing tutor time reading at secondary school makes a great deal of sense. Getting more pupils reading more books more regularly seems like a promising way to improve their reading ability. 

Whether or not it makes a difference in practice, however, depends on how such a programme supports the pupils as they read. The benefits of reading lots of books would probably be nullified if pupils couldn’t actually comprehend them.

Features of Tutor Reading

In most tutor reading programmes there are at least two main features that are designed to support reading comprehension, and that are intended to mediate the difficulty of the texts for pupils. These approaches are:

  • Reading fluency, which comes by way of the tutor reading aloud to the class ie following the patterns of stress and intonation that help pupils to understand, and
  • Direct vocabulary teaching, which involves the tutor defining unfamiliar words that might affect comprehension.

But is this enough to ensure all pupils are comprehending as they read? Is reading aloud to pupils and defining unfamiliar words along the way sufficient support to ensure that pupils are improving their reading ability?

To answer these questions it’s necessary to look briefly at the science of reading, and what goes into successful reading comprehension.

The science of reading

The Simple View of Reading suggests that successful reading is a product of two basic processes – language comprehension and word recognition.

If a pupil has a significant weakness in one or either of these processes, their reading comprehension will be significantly affected. This interaction between word recognition and language comprehension is represented in the three-dimensional model below.

Simple view of reading model
Simple view of reading model

At age 11, the majority of children can decode adequately and most fall within an average range in terms of language comprehension. For these pupils, who are represented in the top right hand quadrant of the diagram, and for whom developing language comprehension is the focus, fluent reading and vocabulary instruction should help aid their reading comprehension, as well as make for an enjoyable reading experience.

In most classrooms, however, there will be pupils from each of the other three quadrants: pupils who struggle with word recognition, language comprehension, or both. Therefore, in most tutor groups, which are usually mixed ability, there will be a wide range of reading needs to support. Is a fluent reader, who explains tricky words, enough to support their comprehension? Or, at the very least, does it ensure they are getting something valuable out of the experience?

Reading aloud with expression, and at a fast pace, has been shown to improve secondary school pupils’ reading comprehension, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, who often include a higher proportion of struggling readers.

Whilst we should approach such small-scale research with caution, it would appear that fluent reading alone can support reading comprehension, even for weaker readers.

Reading aloud with expression, and at a fast pace, has been shown to improve secondary school pupils’ reading comprehension


Fluency coupled with vocabulary instruction therefore seems like a decent bet for improving all pupils’ reading ability, but also a potentially promising way of increasing pupils’ motivation to read even more outside of school.

If a Tutor Reading programme can ensure that reading is fluent and that vocabulary barriers to comprehension are removed, then it stands a good chance of making a difference to many of the outcomes that we value.

Introducing and developing our Tutor Reading programme

For all these reasons and more, we introduced Tutor Reading at Greenshaw High School in 2018 – 2019, following on from a number of schools in our Trust that already had one. After four years of tutor reading, has it had the success that we would have liked? Has what appeared in theory to be a very promising idea, had the same level of success in practice?

In the next couple of blogs we will explore Tutor Reading 1.0 and how we found that Reading Aloud to pupils was not enough on its own, before looking at Tutor Reading 2.0 and what we did to better support pupils’ reading comprehension.

We hope you enjoy following our Tutor Reading journey in this series.

Phil Stock

Phil Stock

Phil Stock

Director, Greenshaw Research School

Read more aboutPhil Stock

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