Press release

Major study reveals reading habits among Scottish school pupils

Published on 28 April 2022

Children in Scotland read more books in the past year and comprehension levels remain high, according to the annual ‘What Kids Are Reading’ report from Renaissance Learning and analysed by the University of Dundee’s Professor Keith Topping.

On this page
  • Major study of over 39,500 pupils in Scotland shows uplift in books read
  • ‘Wonder’ by R. J. Palacio and ‘Shadow’ by Michael Morpurgo stand out as catching the attention of young readers in Scotland
  • Jeff Kinney, David Walliams, and Roald Dahl top the 2022 list of most popular authors overall, J.K. Rowling re-enters the top five

Children in Scotland read more books in the past year and comprehension levels remain high, according to the annual ‘What Kids Are Reading’ report from Renaissance Learning and analysed by the University of Dundee’s Professor Keith Topping.

The study looked at the reading habits over 39,500 pupils in Scotland, among 1 million pupils across the UK and Ireland. It showed that pupils read 11% more books than the previous year. The books they read matched the increased difficulty found in last year’s report and comprehension levels stayed the same as achieved in 2021. The data was analysed using Renaissance’s Accelerated Reader software.

As well as revealing the most popular books overall, the study also identified books in each of the UK’s four nations which are distinctive, either because no other nation reads the book or because other regions read the book much less frequently. For Scotland, ‘Wonder’ by R. J. Palacio captured the imagination of primary pupils while secondary pupils turned to ‘Shadow’ by Michael Morpurgo.

From 2021 to 2022 there was little change in popular authors in primary schools, except Julia Donaldson became a little less popular and Roderick Hunt bounced back to a degree. Jeff Kinney, David Walliams and Roald Dahl remained popular. J. K. Rowling re-emerged as a top five most popular author.

Professor Topping said, “As schools return to something like normal, Accelerated Reader has continued to maintain and even increase reading activity in children and young people. We see clearly from the evidence that time spent reading books is crucial to improved reading skill, an essential transferable skill for the future.

“Children with high quality comprehension of real books also perform better on tests of reading skill. This is excellent, but more attention to communicating favourite books between peers would increase it even further.

In primary school pupils read harder books as they get older, but during secondary school this declines. Older pupils in secondary school were still reading the same difficulty of books as upper primary pupils and this is particularly marked in Scotland. Pupils in primary schools also consistently showed a much higher quality of comprehension when reading (88% to 91%) than pupils in secondary schools (85% to 883%).

While primary school pupils were reading quite hard books (harder than in England), their quality of comprehension was a bit less than in England. However, secondary pupils were reading easier books than England but their quality of comprehension was still a bit lower. The survey noted how, from Year 7, the difficulty of books declines sharply, with the transfer to secondary school having a significant effect even on highly motivated readers.

Additionally presented in the report are findings from a survey of 42,502 pupils by the National Literacy Trust (NLT). Previous data from the NLT found that children’s enjoyment of reading was at an all-time low at the beginning of 2020 but that this trend was reversed dramatically during lockdown – where reading for pleasure increased for the first time since 2005.

While this year’s enjoyment levels have not quite reached the heights they did during school closures (56%), the latest NLT data continues to show an improvement on pre-pandemic levels with just over half of children and young people aged 8-18 still saying they enjoyed reading either very much (21.6%) or quite a lot (29.9%).

Readers can vote for their favourite books after finishing the book. J.K Rowling dominates the list of favourite books within primary schools, with her Harry Potter titles taking the top 3 spots. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows comes out on top, with Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban second, and Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix third.

There are more changes in secondary schools, Rick Riordan has been knocked off the top spot this year and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson takes the crown as the favourite book read by secondary pupils. All of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series also entered the top ten for the first time.

John Moore, Managing Director of Renaissance UK and Australia, said, “The past year has continued to be challenging as pupils adjust to post-pandemic life and most return full time to school. We know books and reading have provided millions of pupils with comfort and escapism and we’re delighted to see this passion continuing, with pupils overall reading 11% more books over the last academic year.

“At Renaissance we understand the important role reading plays not only in a child’s learning, but also in their overall development and wellbeing. Books have never been more accessible than they are today, from visiting local libraries and bookstores to accessing books on myON or Accelerated Reader. This report highlights how important it is that everyone has access to a wide range of books that ignite their own personal passions so each child gets the most out of the opportunities for development that a love of reading can embed.”

A copy of the full report can be found at

Professor Topping, the principal author of this report, is also the author of the upcoming publication about Accelerated Reading - Improving reading comprehension of self-chosen books through computer assessment and feedback: Best practices from research


Grant Hill

Press Officer

+44 (0)1382 384768
Story category Research