Press release

Major study reveals reading habits among Scottish school pupils

Published on 25 April 2023

Insights from the 2023 ‘What Kids Are Reading Report’, a nationwide study including more than 40,000 Scottish pupils, reveals that children read 24% more books than in the previous year.

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  • Nationwide study from Renaissance, including over 40,000 pupils from Scotland, reveals pupils read 24% more books this year
  • ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ by Onjali Q. Raúf and ‘A Kind of Spark’ by Elle McNicoll stand out as catching the attention of young readers in Scotland
  • Despite the rise in reading volume, reading enjoyment has dipped
  • TikTok is helping to shape the reading habits of youngsters

Insights from the 2023 ‘What Kids Are Reading Report’, a nationwide study including more than 40,000 Scottish pupils, reveals that children read 24% more books than in the previous year.

The study, carried out by learning and assessment provider Renaissance and analysed by the University of Dundee’s Professor Keith Topping, assessed the reading habits of nearly 1.3 million pupils across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

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 or at other times. For Scotland,The Boy at the Back of the Class’ by Onjali Q. Raúf captured the imagination of primary pupils while secondary pupils turned to ‘A Kind of Spark’ by Elle McNicoll.

For the last 15 years, the annual report has tracked the book-reading habits of the nation’s pupils and graphic novels have risen in popularity with the help of social media trends such as BookTok likely driving interest and engagement.

Overall across the UK, Alice Oseman’s ‘Heartstopper’ series and Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us’ dominate the list of secondary pupils’ favourite books, following their popularity on BookTok. Meanwhile popular authors such as David Walliams, Jeff Kinney, and JK Rowling retained their top spots in author popularity across both the primary and secondary level.

Professor Topping said, “Now in its 15th year, the report continues to provide invaluable insights into the reading habits of pupils and longstanding trends have become evident. Over this long period, we have seen a repeated decline in reading comprehension from primary to secondary pupils.

“To help tackle this, secondary pupils need to be encouraged to read books of increased difficultly, more appropriate to their age. It’s important we use the data and solutions provided by Renaissance to help secondary pupils to accelerate their learning.” 

TikTok hashtags, driven by BookTok, discussing Alice Oseman’s popular ‘Heartstopper’ series have accumulated over 10.8 billion views on the social media platform, while hashtags about Colleen Hoover’s ‘It Ends With Us’ have generated over 6.3 billion views. BookTok is one of world’s biggest social media communities for books, which started as a hashtag on the social media app TikTok, where users create and discuss videos reviewing and discussing literature, often young adult fiction.

Despite the rise in overall reading volume, findings from a National Literacy Trust survey of 62,149 UK pupils also presented in the report show reading for pleasure has declined since the pandemic.

During lockdown, reading enjoyment had significantly increased among pupils. Now, fewer than half of children and young people say they enjoy reading either very much or a lot. With the popularity of BookTok there is a question over whether the social media trend will help boost reading for pleasure.

Pupils read 27,265,657 books over the past year, but analysis of the difficulty of books and comprehension levels showed a mixed picture. The Average Book Difficulty Level (ATOS) was identical to last year (3.6) but while book difficulty rose as pupils became older, this isn’t in proportion to the rate at which the pupils should have been improving based on their age. The report points to a 15-year trend of secondary pupils not tackling books of sufficient difficulty.

Pupils in primary schools also consistently show a much higher level of comprehension (74% to 80%) than pupils in secondary schools (65% to 71%), despite secondary school pupils not reading more challenging books.

This trend is marked in all regions and the fact that pupils in Scotland are still in primary school when they enter Year 7 does not protect them from this slump. In Year 6 pupils are reading at their chronological age. In Year 7 pupils are suddenly a year behind their chronological age, in Year 8 two years behind, and in Years 9-11 at least three years behind.

Joan Mill, Group Managing Director of Renaissance International, said, “Since the first report, ‘What Kids Are Reading’ has offered unrivalled insight into the books read and enjoyed by over a million children. In that time certain authors have dominated, but the diversity of the most popular books this year, and the emergence of BookTok stars, is an interesting development.

“Whilst we should lean into any trend that encourages more reading, teachers play a vital role in helping pupils select books that will challenge and develop them. When pupils read suitably challenging texts appropriate for their age, they are more likely to finish the book and develop a reading habit that leads ultimately to reading for pleasure – and the wider academic benefits that brings. 

“Renaissance solutions such as myON and Accelerated Reader help teachers deliver the personalised reading practice that is crucial in enabling every pupil to reach their full potential.”

Dr Christina Clark, Head of Research at the National Literacy Trust, said, "Whilst it is encouraging to discover that children are reading more books through the Accelerated Reader Programme, our research shows this is happening alongside reading enjoyment levels being at a 15-year-low, and the percentage of children who say they read daily is also a concern.  

“The brief rise in both levels of reading enjoyment and reading frequency in May 2020 suggests that giving children and young people free time to read is vital in supporting their reading enjoyment. We also know that children and young people are finding inspiration for their next read from a variety of sources, including teachers, librarians, peers, families and online platforms.

“It is clear that much more must be done to support children and young people with the lowest levels of reading enjoyment, recognising the role that families, schools and the wider community have to play in ensuring any downward trends in reading enjoyment and frequency do not extend into future years."

A copy of the full report can be found here:


Grant Hill

Senior Public Affairs Officer

+44 (0)1382 384768
Story category Public interest, Research