Low-cost internet-based programme found to considerably improve reading ability of year 7 pupils

An internet-based programme has been found to increase the reading age of pupils by 3 additional months in just 22 weeks, according to the results of a randomised controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today. Low-income pupils benefited even more, with their reading age improving by 5 additional months in the same amount of time.

The trial of Accelerated Reader, funded by the EEF and led by the schools themselves, involved pupils at the start of year 7 who had not achieved Level 4 in their primary results for English. The software screens pupils according to reading ability and suggests books to match their reading age and interests. Its purpose is to foster the habit of independent reading for pleasure amongst the children.

At a cost of just £9 per pupil, the findings show that Accelerated Reader could be a particularly cost-effective method of improving the reading ability of weaker and low-income pupils at the important transition from primary to secondary school.

The Accelerated Reader trial, evaluated by Durham University,is part of a group of reports published by the EEF today. The 9 reports add to the EEF’s growing source of independent evidence to help schools narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.

Also published today are the results of Mathematics Mastery, a whole-school approach which aims to deepen pupils’ conceptual understanding of key mathematical ideas. Compared to traditional curricula, fewer topics are covered in more depth and greater emphasis is placed on problem solving and encouraging mathematical thinking. The EEF trials found that pupils following the Mathematics Mastery programme made an additional month’s progress over a period of a year.

The outcomes of five different trials involving a phonics component highlight that some methods of phonics tuition can have a positive effect on the reading age and literacy skills of both primary and secondary school pupils. Findings include:

  • Fresh Start, a literacy catch-up intervention for pupils at risk of falling behind in early secondary school, improved the reading level of pupils by an additional 3 months. This trial focused on a systematic and rigorous approach to phonics practice, taught to small groups of pupils.
  • Pupils who received Catch Up Literacy, a one-to-one literacy intervention delivered by teaching assistants, made an additional two months’ progress compared to pupils who did not. However, this difference was not statistically significant, so it can’t be confidently concluded that it did not occur by chance.
  • A small trial of Butterfly Phonics, which aims to improve the reading of struggling pupils through phonics instruction and a formal teaching style, demonstrated evidence of promise.

Some trials of phonics programmes had a lower impact on literacy skills, suggesting that careful implementation is necessary if programmes are to have a positive impact on pupil attainment.

Today’s reports from the Education Endowment Foundation demonstrate the potential of using evidence-informed practices to inform teaching. The results will inform the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which more than 45% of school leaders already use to decide how best to spend their pupil premium funding for disadvantaged pupils.

The EEF will publish their next group of reports in June and are currently trialling 66 further ways of improving standards for the poorest pupils in English schools. Since 2011, they have awarded £52m to test 93 projects, reaching over 600,000 pupils in 4,700 schools across the UK.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Since its formation, the Education Endowment Foundation has been committed to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement through trialling programmes which are rigorously evaluated. Today’s reports add to a growing body of evidence and a much-valued resource that school leaders can draw on to improve the educational achievement of our most disadvantaged pupils.”

Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Good literacy and numeracy skills are essential to success both in secondary school and later in life so it’s hugely promising that today’s results have provided us with evidence for effective ways to do just that. With programmes like Accelerated Reader showing particularly positive effects, especially for low-income pupils, we are confident that the results of today’s reports will go some way in helping teachers to close their attainment gap.”


  • The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £52 million to 93 projects working with over 600,000 pupils in over 4,700 schools across England.
  • The Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible summary of educational research developed by the EEF in collaboration with the Sutton Trust and a team of academics at Durham University led by Professor Steve Higgins. The expanded Toolkit covers 34 topics and summarises research from over 10,000 studies. The Toolkit is a live resource which is regularly updated as new findings are published. To access the Toolkit please visit: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/.
  • The full list of projects funded by EEF can be viewed here.