Summer Active Reading Programme

The Summer Active Reading Programme aimed to improve reading skills and particularly comprehension by raising children's engagement in, and enjoyment of, reading at the transition from primary school to secondary school. The programme was delivered by Booktrust, an independent charity that aims to change lives through engaging people with reading.

Participating pupils were gifted four book packs and invited to attend two summer events led by Booktrust staff at their new secondary school. The first book pack was gifted towards the end of the child’s final term at primary school, the second and third packs at the summer events and the final pack in the first term of secondary school. Volunteers, recruited by Booktrust, gifted the book packs and supported activities, including one to one reading, at the summer events.

The trial examined the impact of the programme on 205 pupils from 10 schools in the north of England who had been identified as unlikely to achieve Level 4a or above by the end of Key Stage 2. Pupils who were not likely to gain at least Level 2 were not included in the trial.

The study was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation as one of 24 projects in a themed round on literacy catch-up at the primary-secondary transition. Projects funded within this round aimed to identify effective ways to support pupils not achieving Level 4 in English at the end of Key Stage 2. The project was one of four funded with a particular focus on reading for pleasure.

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. On average, pupils who participated in the programme made slightly more progress in reading comprehension than similar pupils who did not. However, this finding was not statistically significant, meaning that it could have occurred by chance.

  2. The evaluation was the first randomised controlled trial of a book-gifting programme in England that included a primary outcome measure of attainment, but problems with recruiting schools reduced the sensitivity of the evaluation and its potential to identify impact.

  3. A positive impact on enjoyment of reading was detected for pupils not in receipt of free school meals. However, in terms of attainment this group improved slightly less than those eligible for free school meals.

  4. The programme was welcomed by schools and volunteers, who tended to view it and their involvement with it positively. However, engaging all schools fully and securing parental engagement was challenging.

  5. Improving the training and support given to volunteers and enhanced support for schools would ensure that the programme is implemented as intended, though it is not guaranteed that increasing fidelity to the programme would increase impact.

What is the impact?

On average, pupils participating in the programme made more progress than those who did not. The size of the difference was small, and could be envisaged as saying that pupils who participated in the programme made approximately two months’ additional progress than those who did not. However, the finding was not statistically significant, meaning that it is not possible to conclude with confidence that the observed effect was due to the programme rather than chance.

Pupils eligible for free school meals and pupils ineligible for free school meals both made more progress than similar pupils in the comparison group. However, both effects were not statistically significant, meaning that they could have occurred by chance.

The impact of the programme on pupils’ enjoyment of reading and motivation to read was also assessed. Overall, a positive but not statistically significant effect size was found on both measures. However, the programme appeared to have a different impact on the enjoyment and motivation of pupils eligible for free school meals compared to their peers. Amongst pupils eligible and claiming free school meals a negative, but not statistically significant impact was found, whereas amongst pupils not eligible or not claiming free school meals a positive impact was found, which was statistically significant.

Intervention vs. Control182+0.13 (-0.12, +0.38)+2 monthNo
Intervention vs. Control (FSM only)61+ 0.22 (-0.24, +0.69)+3 monthNoN/A
Intervention vs. Control (Non-FSM only)121+0.08 (-0.23, +0.40)+1 monthNoN/A

How secure is the finding?

Overall, the evaluation findings are judged to be of moderate security. This assessment takes into account a number of factors including the study’s design, size and the level of drop-out.

This evaluation was set up as an effectiveness trial. Effectiveness trials aim to test the intervention under realistic conditions in a large number of schools. A randomised controlled trial design was employed to compare outcomes of pupils receiving the intervention to similar pupils who did not. Reading comprehension was assessed using the GL New Group Reading Test.

While the original design for this current trial was based upon a large sample, the number of schools and pupils who took part in the study was much lower than intended. 205 pupils were randomly allocated between intervention and comparison groups against an initial target of 900. 23 pupils subsequently dropped out of the trial after randomisation. Despite the recruitment and attrition issues, the intervention and control groups for analysis were balanced in terms of participant numbers, free school meal eligibility and gender. Given the smaller than planned size of the final sample, it is very important to note that the absence of statistically significant effects in the study does not mean that the report provides evidence that the programme does not work. Rather, the achieved sample size is not sufficient to draw any clear conclusions.

The sample of schools in the study was broadly comparable with other English schools with above average levels of disadvantage and thus the results are somewhat generalisable beyond the immediate context. Despite the low recruitment, the process evaluation provides rich information about the programme's implementation. The study provides important insights into the feasibility of the programme in terms of: its potential effects on outcomes; an estimate of these potential effect sizes (providing valuable information on sample sizes for future study); and key facilitators and barriers to implementation.

There are only a few previous trials of book-gifting programmes and, of those that exist, little evidence has emerged that such programmes lead to improvements in children’s reading skills. Typically, existing studies have examined changes in parental attitudes for programmes related to very young children, and have detected small effects.

How much does it cost?

It is estimated that the project would cost between £130 and £160 per child to deliver to a minimum of 60 and maximum of 90 children transitioning to one secondary school. This estimate includes resources (£90 per pupil), activity days (£9.30), training (£13.20) and salary and overheads (£17.50).