Research School Network: Reading for Pleasure: What is it, why is it important, and how should we do it? Reading for Pleasure: Bella Pattinson

Reading for Pleasure: What is it, why is it important, and how should we do it?

Reading for Pleasure: Bella Pattinson

This article is written by Bella Pattinson, Learning Resources Manager (Librarian) at Notre Dame High School, Norwich.

At Notre Dame High school our approaches to reading have been shaped by a range of EEF Guidance Reports including those for Secondary Literacy and for SEND. Like many schools, this has led us to more rigorous assessment of reading ages, careful implementation of targeted reading interventions and, more widely, teaching that breaks down and explicitly teaches component knowledge and skills (explicit vocabulary instruction for example).

This important work has not pushed out our other aim for our young people: that they become life-long readers. Careful implementation of literacy strategies does not come at a cost of cultivating reading for pleasure. In this blog, our librarian unpacks what that means in practice…

What is it?

Put simply Reading for Pleasure is any time a pupil reads of their own volition (whether a blog, a novel, an article etc.) When we talk about reading for pleasure in school, what we’re really talking about is how to develop an appreciation and love of reading that goes beyond the classroom and lasts a lifetime. No pressure!

Why is it important? 

The DfE Reading Framework states clearly that making sure [pupils] become engaged with reading from the beginning is one of the most important ways to make a difference for their life chances.’

There is an abundance of research out there as to the benefits of reading but I’ll summarise some of the key points I like to share with my students.

Reading benefits your:

Communication: At Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab, psychologist Diana Tamir has demonstrated that people who often read fiction have better social cognition, improving their social competence. 

Empathy: Public Health England (2014) said Research shows [social and emotional] skills are more significant for young people’s academic attainment than IQ’. Research has found that being a regular fiction reader can increase both prosocial (e.g., helping) behaviour and empathy’ and the University of Sussex is putting together a major research programme, working with EmpathyLab, to expand this research. 

Wellbeing: Amongst other interesting findings The National Literacy Trust found in their research that children and young people who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who are the least engaged’. 

Vocabulary: It’s no surprise that reading increases your vocabulary but the Oxford Language Report (2018) highlights how important vocabulary is, finding that: pupils with lower levels of vocabulary were less likely to find employment at the end of school, are more likely to have difficulty making friends, and more likely to suffer from low self esteem. 

Academic Success: The research by GL Assessment found a link between the importance of reading to the whole school curriculum. Yes, even in maths!

PISA dataconsistently shows that engagement in reading […] is a mediator of gender or socio-economic status’ (also found by Sullivan and Brown 2013; RfP is a more important determinant to children’s success than their family’s socio-economic status’). Therefore it is vital that Reading for

Pleasure is not left to chance. In fact the DfE’s Reading Framework states that it is essential that schools systematically plan to nurture pupil’s desire to read.’

So, how do we do it?

I boil the main tenets of RfP down to Choice, Encouragement, and Support.

Choice:Research has consistently shown that choice is linked to increased educational outcomes; Even struggling readers will show effort and persistence when reading self-selected texts’. The DfE states that teachers need to ensure that all pupils can read at a speed that allows them to enjoy and understand the books they want to read for themselves.’

It goes without saying then, the books available to pupils must therefore be broad in scope, genre and interest, varied in the level of challenge, and fitting for a range of ages.

There is debate about how far reading schemes (e.g. Accelerated Reader) are beneficial which we don’t have time to dissect in this piece. I’d argue that prescriptive reading is antithetical to Reading for Pleasure. Since reading this post by Pernille Ripp I’ve found the easiest litmus test to apply in any reading practice is would I want to do this myself?’


The DfE’s listed core strategies to encourage sustained and voluntary reading include; adults reading aloud regularly (whether a tutor time novel, First Chapter Fridays, or even every day subject leaders reading texts: this models fluent reading, supports comprehension, and demonstrates how to pronounce unfamiliar words and subject specific vocabulary), informal book talk (including recommendations from peers and adults), providing time to read, promoting books (Non-fiction November, Black History Month etc) and encouraging library use.

No child who hates reading is going to suddenly change their mind just because you put a book in their hand. It has to be an effortful, persistent, and positive endeavour. Enthusiasm is contagious, and apathy is a disease.

Other suggested ways to encourage reading by the DfE include book clubs and book fairs. Though a great addition, RfP cannot rest on these alone: A book club will attract those already drawn to reading, and book fairs are great for those who 1) can afford it 2) already see books as a valuable way to spend their money.


The DfE states that it wants pupils choosing and reading books independently for challenge, interest and enjoyment’. But consider the skills a non-reader has to learn before they’re capable of choosing the right book.

Do they know what genres are and the tropes associated with each? Do they know what kind of stories they’ll like? The style, pacing, plot? Do they know to read the blurb or the first page to assess their interest? Do they know how to identify what is an appropriate level of challenge for them?

These are skills which need to be explicitly discussed and taught so that we can equip students to become independent readers.

For those who are less engaged and less confident I have found a conversation goes a long way. You don’t like reading? What do you usually read? Okay what do you think you might like to try? Shall we go and find something? Likewise, don’t underestimate how important a pupil feels when they walk through the door and you say I have a book for you I think you’d enjoy, it’s got a really gripping opening’ (it doesn’t matter you’ve recommended the same book 7 times that week).

Mostly it’s important to remember, we just need to light a spark. Once it’s aflame it will keep burning (though a quick check in to fan the flames every now and then won’t hurt at those key moments either). And lastly, embedding a school culture that values and supports reading for pleasure […] is a collective responsibility.’

Bella Pattinson, Librarian at Notre Dame High School
I studied English Literature before completing my Masters in Modern and Contemporary Writing, both at UEA. Coming from a family of teachers, it was no surprise when I pivoted my attention towards education and started working at a Trauma Informed primary school in Suffolk in the SEND team, with a focus on reading interventions. I then moved back to Norwich where I continued working in primary education as a 1:1 for children with complex SEND and SEMH needs.

I started at Notre Dame in February 22 as the Learning Resources Manager (Librarian) and I have loved every minute of it. I am endlessly enthusiastic and personally invested in access to literature as someone who was late-diagnosed with Dyslexia aged 18. I was also diagnosed with Autism last year, and though it takes some of the magic and mystery away from Miss, how do you know every book?’, being able to talk about my autistic special interest day in and day out and getting paid for pleasure is a total dream.

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