Pupils must read at home more to boost standards, it is claimed

Pupils must read more outside the classroom if Wales is to improve its below average performance in international tests, it is claimed.

Fifteen-year-olds around the world will be tested in reading, maths and science later this year.

In the last tests three years ago, Wales was below average for reading and maths, and average for science.

The Welsh government said it had a number of initiatives to raise literacy standards.

Wales ranked lowest of the UK countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests in 2009.

The Welsh Local Government Association will hear from Pisa's senior analyst Michael Davidson on Thursday about how countries can improve their performance.

Mr Davidson told BBC Wales reading scores could be boosted very simply - by encouraging more reading.

"One of the most strong predictors of reading success is the extent to which students read whether in school or outside of school," he said.

"In Wales amongst 15-year-olds, there's a 50-point difference in Pisa - that's more than a school year's worth of difference - between the students who don't read for enjoyment and those who only read for up to just 30 minutes.

"One of the messages for the minister and the education system is encouraging students to do more reading. The encouragement can come from within the classroom but certainly at home as well."

In 2009, out of 67 countries taking part, Wales was ranked 38th for reading, 40th for maths and 30th for science.

China, South Korea and Finland dominated the upper rankings while Peru, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan propped up the tables.

The Welsh government has said it wants to get Wales into the top 20 by 2015.

'Improvement is possible'

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said at the time the results were "unacceptable" and everyone involved should be "alarmed".

Mr Davidson said it was difficult to predict improvements in ranking, but other countries had significantly boosted their results.

"One of the key messages for Wales to take out of the Pisa study is that improvement is possible and countries like Chile, Peru, Germany, Poland have made significant gains," he said.

"If Wales achieved the same as Chile over the last 10 years, then Wales would move from significantly below the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average to significantly above," he said.

In January 2011, it was reported that councils in Wales spent an average £604 less on each pupil compared to councils in England.

But Mr Davidson said that spending more money was not necessarily the answer.

Failing to plan

"It's making better use of the resources that you have and effective use of the spending that's at your disposal," he said.

Concerns have been raised for some time about the standards achieved by pupils in Wales.

School inspection body Estyn warned earlier this year that many schools were failing to plan well enough on how to develop basic skills among 11-14 year-olds.

And figures last year suggested English teenagers had opened a bigger gap over their Welsh counterparts in their performance at GCSE exams.

The number of English students getting five good GCSEs, including English and maths, rose by nearly 5% to 58.3%. The equivalent figure for Wales rose by 0.2% to 49.6%.

A Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson said: "Local authorities and schools in Wales are committed to improving educational outcomes for our children and young people.

"Learning from the wealth of good practice that is available both at home and abroad is a vital part of that work."

The Welsh government said that improving levels of literacy and numeracy is a key commitment in its Programme for Government and that it had recently launched its National Literacy Plan, which outlines actions to drive up literacy standards in schools.

"We have also put in place a number of programmes over the years to encourage reading, such as Read A Million Words Together and Improving Boys Literacy targets boys aged 9-14 who are reluctant readers," a spokesperson said.

"Our Make Time to Read campaign emphasises that reading with a child, just for ten minutes a day can make a huge difference to their overall reading ability and confidence.

"We have provided funding for Booktrust Cyrmu, through its Bookstart Programme, to encourage reading at home by offering bilingual book bags to babies and children at nine month and two year health checks."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites