A LOW-COST scheme significantly improves the reading ability of year 7 pupils, according to research carried out by Durham University.

The internet-based Accelerated Reader programme increased the reading age of pupils by three additional months in just 22 weeks.

The effect on low-income pupils was even greater, with their reading age improving by five additional months in the same amount of time.

The research into the programme was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

It involved pupils at the start of year 7 - the first year of secondary school - who had not achieved Level 4 in their primary results for English.

The software assesses pupils’ 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 cost-effective method of improving the reading ability of weaker and low-income pupils at the transition from primary to secondary school.

Professor Stephen Gorard from Durham University’s School of Education, said: “The schools did very well to conduct this trial. The results are secure, with very little lost data. The study shows that poorer children can catch up with their peers as long as the right choices are made by schools.”

The Accelerated Reader report is part of a group of reports published by the EEF which add to the growing source of independent evidence to help schools narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.