Pupils score three points higher in verbal reasoning tests if they have a parent who attends parents’ evenings, research has found.
Children whose parents never read to them before the age of five also scored almost two points lower in reasoning tests taken at 11, a report by the Social Market Foundation has said.
To help the poorest pupils, the foundation is asking the government to launch after-school “family literacy” classes in primary schools so that parents develop the habit of reading with their child.
But literacy expert Geoff Barton (pictured), the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, insisted that many of the parents in need of such help would be the least likely to want to come.
Instead, initiatives should encourage parents to read with their child in their home, not in an after-school classroom where they may feel “patronised”, he said.
The report recommended that primary schools with above-average levels of pupils on free school meals have access to funding ring-fenced by the Skills Funding Agency.
It should cost about £7 per session per person, or £56 per parent and child, over a four-week session, said the report.
A review of nearly 30 other family literacy programmes for year 1 and year 2 pupils by the Nuffield Foundation found a positive effect on key stage 1 reading scores, and on parents reading more often to their children.
But a 2010 Ofsted report called ‘English at the Crossroads’ found that making pupils read more in school to compensate for a lack of books at home only “reinforced the feeling it was alien to them”, added Barton.
Instead, the report said pupils benefited most if their parents read with them in their own home.
Attendance at parents’ evenings was also found to be an important factor, with 11-year-olds scoring three more points as a median average in verbal reasoning tests if their parent went.
Dianne Murphy, cofounder of Thinking Reading, a reading intervention strategy for secondary school pupils, said any attempt to boost pupils’ language skills needed to use rich vocabulary, give a clear understanding how letters and sounds connect, and offer a wide range of interesting books.
But not all teachers feel confident about delivering high-end literacy sessions, she said.
“This is a good idea, but we need to make sure that teachers have the skills they need to deliver it.”