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Female primary school student lifts a book out from a library shelf while smiling.
Image ©Shutterstock/Przemek Klos

Infrequent book borrowers score lower in reading assessment

Research 5 minute read

Almost 13% of Australia’s year 4 students who took part in an international study said they had ‘never or almost never’ borrowed books from their school or local libraries.

New analysis of the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) has also found that 7% of Australian year 4 students were in schools that didn’t allow children to take library books home.

The latest issue of Snapshots, which examines library use by students and compares it with their reading performance, is published today by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). It finds a connection between those with lower borrowing rates and lower performance in reading comprehension.

‘The findings are a reminder of the importance of primary school students having access to quality reading materials,’ ACER Senior Research Fellow and snapshot author Kylie Hillman says.

‘Particularly when we know from PIRLS that 29% of Australia’s year 4 students have only a few books at home, and that they have recorded a lower average reading score than those with more.’

In developing the snapshot, Ms Hillman looked at the reading habits of 5,487 students across 281 schools, capturing the responses of principals, teachers and students.

By exploring the data on the reading habits of students and links to performance, the snapshot provides important context for schools in their approach to developing student literacy, Ms Hillman says.

‘Access to appropriate and high-quality reading materials may be an important factor in the development of students’ attitudes toward reading – how much they enjoy it and value it as a pastime – as well as how they perform in assessments of reading comprehension,’ she says.

‘So it’s worrying to see that 13% of students never, or almost never, borrowed books and also that 7% of students were in schools that didn’t allow children to take books home.

‘We don’t know why schools made that decision, but I find it concerning, particularly when we know that there are students without access to a range of books at home and early exposure is so important in supporting their reading development.’

The snapshot shows that while most students had access to school libraries and were frequently given time to use them, close to half were not regular borrowers.

The new findings add to the knowledge made available through PIRLS, which is conducted by IEA every 5 years, and which gathered data in 2021 from 400,000 students across 57 countries. 

ACER conducts PIRLS in Australia and released this report last year.

It showed Australia’s average student reading score was statistically higher than the average scores of 28 other countries, including Germany, New Zealand and France, and lower than that of 6 other countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong and England.


Find out more


The ACER Snapshots series includes findings from all of the global education studies that Australian schools participate in.

Read Snapshots issue 17: Australian students’ access to and use of libraries, by Kylie Hillman.

Find out more about the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.

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