Case study

Summer Reading Challenge: a national scheme supporting literacy

The Reading Agency's Summer Reading Challenge is a national scheme supporting literacy

Three children looking at books

Summer Reading Challenge: Big Friendly Read 2016. Photo credit: The Reading Agency


The Reading Agency have collated facts about reading in the UK. Including:

  • statistics from 2014 which show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11
  • how reading for pleasure is more important for children’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education and is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background
  • analysis from the Department for Education which suggests that if all pupils in England read for enjoyment every day or almost every day, the boost to Key Stage 2 performance would be the equivalent of a rise of eight percentage points in the proportion achieving a level 4b (from its current level of 67% to 75%)
  • how adults with lower levels of literacy are more likely to experience poor health

Finding a way to encourage children to continue reading while not in school can make a big difference to their confidence and skills. In a family survey sent out this year to parents and carers of children taking part in the challenge, 82% of respondents said they believed it encouraged children to read more over the summer.

Description of the work and any relationships

The annual Summer Reading Challenge, designed by The Reading Agency in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), runs in libraries around the whole of the UK. It helps get over three quarters of a million children aged 4-11 into libraries each year and encourages them to read 6 books during their summer break. There is a different theme each year, but children can read whatever they like - as long as it is borrowed from a library. The goal is to make reading fun something children want to do with their friends and their families. There are lots of incentives to encourage them to keep reading.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) National Library Service makes a selection of Summer Reading Challenge book collection titles available in accessible formats (braille, audio and giant print) for children who are visually impaired, or have visually impaired parents/carers. This material can also help children with learning disabilities and dyslexia.

Each year, thousands of Reading Hack volunteers aged 13-24 also play a vital role in inspiring children to read over the summer, gaining valuable skills and experience in the process.

One parent said: “The volunteers were excellent and very patient. It was great they [were] often young male volunteers for my child to chat to as they were great role models.” (Parent of a 4 to 7 year old boy, West Sussex County Council.)

Accomplishments / lessons learned

The challenge has been running since 1999 and each year, The Reading Agency works with libraries to evaluate the programme and ensure it continues to respond to the needs of families and children.

For example, in 2013 a specially designed early years challenge was introduced for children under 4 following feedback from libraries and families. Most libraries now run early years activity linked to the Summer Reading Challenge and in 2016, 25,415 under 4s took part.

2016 accomplishments

In 2016, 755,208 children took part in the Summer Reading Challenge in England, Wales and Scotland, where the challenge is sponsored by Tesco Bank and called the Tesco Bank Summer Reading Challenge Scotland.

7761 Reading Hack volunteers supported the challenge in 2016 and 16,580 children took part internationally through the British Council and the armed forces and in Eire and the USA.

The 2016 Summer Reading Challenge family impact survey was completed by 1671 parents and carers between the end of July and the start of November 2016. The evaluation found that:

  • 89% felt the challenge helped their child enjoy reading
  • 84% reported that it increased conversation about books
  • 82% believed that it encouraged children to read more over the summer
  • 77% felt that taking part increased library usage

Increased reading confidence

Many respondents said the challenge had changed their child’s attitude to reading, including increasing their reading confidence.

“The challenge totally transformed our daughter’s approach to reading. She liked the competitive idea of trying to achieve a goal, but in the process discovered a love of reading which had previously evaded her!” (Parent, London Borough of Bromley)

“It made me feel more confident because I read so many books that were longer than I had read before. Now I really like reading.” (4 to 7 year old girl, Cheshire East)

Encourage reading of more of different books

Respondents also noted that the Summer Reading Challenge encouraged them to read more or different books over the summer.

“In the holidays my children never use[d] to read much as they weren’t provided with books from school and we have read all our books at home. So we managed to get my children reading different types of books and also improve their reading skills in the process. Now my children look forward to going to the library at the weekends.” (Parent, Norfolk)

“I’ve loved picking my own books that I wouldn’t normally get to choose in school. I like doing the reading challenge as I get to experience different types of books” (8 to 11 year old girl, Peterborough)

Broad appeal of the challenge

The responses also indicated that the challenge has a very broad appeal, including for reluctant readers and those with additional needs.

“It was a real treat to be able to do something all together as a family, including my son who is autistic. Too many other summer holiday activities either exclude him, or cater just for him, but the reading challenge was something all of my children could enjoy together” (Parent, West Sussex)

“Great for encouraging my daughter to read as she has just been diagnosed with delay in speech sound development which is having a big impact on her learning to read. Made going to the library and choosing books exciting and encouraged her to keep going so she could get the medal at the end” (Parent, Shropshire)

Overall, the survey results show that the Summer Reading Challenge is a highly valued activity which parents or carers and children enjoy being part of. Respondents were very positive about the benefits of taking part in the challenge, love receiving the incentives and value the way in which it encourages them to make more time for reading and visiting the library over the summer.

Future plans

The Reading Agency, SCL and the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians ASCEL plan a broad review of the challenge in 2017, which will start to shape it from 2018 onwards. The Summer Reading Challenge is a shared reading for pleasure programme and public libraries are core to its delivery. It is a huge incentive for families to use their local libraries over the summer and this year 68,040 children joined the library as new members during the challenge.

Contact info:

Further information

Summer Reading Challenge quick guide: Reading Facts: Family impact evaluation:

Published 30 November 2016