Developing a Reading Culture at Key Stage 3

Getting to grips with reality… As far as reading is concerned, Reading for Pleasure is perhaps the holy grail all schools strive for. In my previous school, those who read volitionally were our top 20 performers across all academic subjects. The correlation between reading volition and academic achievement was undeniable and we knew we had to build on this, encouraging all students to become volitional readers. Although the grammar school setting may have been by some as an advantageous one in ensuring RfP was developed, we were faced with our set of unique circumstances that stood in the way of building our RfP culture, including a fixation with STEM subjects, poor attitudes towards reading and all this was exacerbated by the fact that 44% of students spoke English as an additional language.

Gathering the evidence:

Although the process of gathering evidence was a slow one, it was one that ultimately brought about the change we needed. In order to help a culture centred on reading volition, we ploughed into the available external evidence, including the work of the UKLA, OU and observed practice in other schools. Generating internal evidence – principally through pupil voice – enabled us to align external evidence with our internal needs and thus best meet the needs of our students.

Pupil voice discussions created a sobering narrative, but this catapulted us into developing our volitional reading culture, centred on three approaches:

1) Building a RfP Environment –

In order to develop our students’ volitional reading, we agreed with Lodge’s (2020) view that powerful reading environments can ‘support your message’ that reading is something that we value, give time to and is worth investing in. For us, the learning environment needed to give a clear message: reading matters!

Small changes, including the PowerPoint slide below, was adopted to showcase the books staff were reading. This quick win helped to unlock the unscripted conversations around reading and helped to initiate our reading journey.

But we didn’t stop there. We transformed our wider environment, library and created a Reading Room – a room dedicated to the development of volitional reading.


2) Prioritising Reading Fluency –

All the work we’d put in place would have been unsuccessful if we didn’t work on developing reading fluency across all subjects. This, then, became an important part of our mission.

Our focus began initially with teacher modelling. A teacher would deliberately read a text out loud and students were encouraged to dissect the components that led to reading fluency. Students were then encouraged to echo read, read the next section in pairs and then read independently.

Reader’s theatre is a useful strategy in developing our students’ reading fluency. Whilst the principles behind the model are tight, its implementation at classroom level is applied loosely in order to meet the contextual needs of our students.

(Figure taken from:


3) Reading Ambassador Programme –

We set up a bespoke intervention – The Reading Ambassador Programme (RAP) – where our older students supported our most reluctant readers through targeted interventions, progress against the various components of reading, and, most importantly, acting as role models who value reading. The initiative took time to embed, but as Jonathan Douglas (2019) argues, when students see ‘the people they look up to valuing reading [they are] more likely to pick up a book for themselves’, which for us is our ultimate reading goal.


Looking to the Future…

Our reading journey is perhaps best encapsulated by an ancient Chinese proverb: “Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid of only standing still.”

Our reading adventure has been slow but we now look to the future and recognise there is still much to do around vocabulary, CPD and our ever changing context – getting our parents involved. These are the areas we are now looking to tackle and we expect this next part of our journey will unravel over the coming years.



Bibliography and Further Reading:

  • Aarons, G. et al. (2010) Advancing a Conceptual Model of Evidence-Based Practice Implementation in Public Service Sectors. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research. 38(1): p4-23.
  • Colin J & Smith E (2021). ‘Effective Professional Development Guidance Report’. Percipio: London
  • Cremin, T. Hendry, H. Chamberlain, L and Twiner, A. (2022) Reading for pleasure: Exploring the concept, An extract from the forthcoming (2023) OU review of the research literature on reading for pleasure commissioned by the Mercers’ Company for their Special Initiative on Young People’s Reading and Writing for Pleasure.
  • Crowther P (2023) ‘Readers Theatre: A Powerful Tool for Developing Reading Fluency and Metacognition’
  • Dewitt P (2022). ‘De-implementation: Creating the Space to Focus on What Works’. SAGE Publications Ltd: London
  • Douglas J (2019). ‘Children’s literacy in 2019’
  • Hudson, R. F., H. B. Lane, and P. C. Pullen. (2005). Reading fluency assessment and instruction: What, why, and how. Reading Teacher58(8), pp. 702-714.
  • Lodge, L (2020). ‘Building a Love of Reading: The Importance of a Rich Reading Environment’
  • McInerney (2019). ‘A Misguided Obsession with STEM Subjects’
  • Rogers B & Frost B (2006). ‘Every Child Matters: Empowering the Student Voice’. National Teacher Research Panel: Yarborough
  • The Reading Agency (2015). ‘Literature Review: The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment’. TRA: UK
  • Topping, K (2023). ‘What and How Kids Are Reading’. Renaissance Learning: Dundee

Gaurav Dubay


Gaurav Dubay is formerly a Head of English and now Trust Director of English as well as an ELE with St Matthew’s Research School.