An effective reading program can change outcomes

Learning to read is critical to a child's overall well-being

“We could have filmed the day when we took them into the library and showed them the books. Their faces lit up, their smiles, and that’s what you want from children.”  

This is how a literacy coordinator described first year students’ initial interaction with a reading program, Bug Club. Instilling not just the skills to read, but the love of reading is so very important for young learners.

Being able to read sets the foundation for success in school. When a learner can’t read, it affects other subject areas too, leading a learner to struggle both academically and emotionally (Goodwin, 2012). In fact, researchers have found that students in the U.S. who are not at least moderately fluent in reading by third grade are unlikely to graduate from high school (Slavin, Karweit, Wasik, Madden, & Dolan, 1994).

Engaging digital reading program starts learners on the right path

Used in more than 5,000 primary schools in the UK, Bug Club is a whole-school reading program designed for ages 4-11. The first phonics-based reading program to combine more than 350 books with an “Online Reading World,” the program is rooted in rigorous phonics research and developed by literacy experts1. Reading materials, which can be accessed in print and online, also include lovable characters, supplementary quizzes and games, and professional development materials to help teachers and parents to support children’s literacy development. Bug Club books are aligned with the national UK curriculum and the nationally recognized Book Banding system to support progress for all learners.

Learners make significant progress in foundational reading skills

Although it is widely known that Bug Club is a popular literacy program, as part of Pearson’s efficacy commitment, researchers were interested in better understanding the kinds of learning gains made by students who use Bug Club. Partnering with researchers from the University College London and teachers from 36 primary schools across London, Pearson researchers developed a 4-year randomized control trial (RCT) - the most rigorous of all types of research - to gather evidence about the impact Bug Club had on student learning gains in literacy.

At the end of the first year of the study, which included 36 schools and 1,510 primary students, researchers discovered that students using Bug Club made progress on reading and vocabulary measures that were statistically significant, meaning that the learning gains were attributable to the use of Bug Club.

Specifically, compared to peers who did not use the product, learners who used Bug Club advanced an additional:

  • six months ahead in word decoding;
  • three months ahead in spelling;
  • two months ahead in reading comprehension;
  • three months ahead in picture vocabulary comprehension; and
  • three months ahead in word recognition

The positive impact of Bug Club was similar across genders and with varying proportions of students identified as “English as Additional Language Learners.” In fact, Bug Club was found to have the greatest impact on pupils’ reading progress in schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils (including those receiving free school meals).

Helping learners enjoy reading and learning

In addition to tracking student progress on specific literacy skills, researchers spent time in the classrooms of ten schools who use Bug Club to observe teaching and learning, and interact with students, teachers and parents to learn more about their experience with the program.

Qualitative case studies in those ten schools revealed that Bug Club supported learners’ motivation to read. Interviews with teachers, literacy coordinators, parents, and learners stressed how the quality of the program supports the engagement required for students to persist to true enjoyment of reading. Among 164 primary students who were interviewed, 161 said they liked to read Bug Club books—including reluctant readers. Parents and teachers reported that they were reading more and for longer in the classroom and at home.

One seven-year-old boy interviewed said, “I like the books because I get to guess what is happening next…it makes me feel excited.”

Through humor, colorful illustrations, breadth of genres, and varied content, Bug Club books support student engagement and motivation. Importantly situation in the primary school years, Bug Club not only leads to literacy skills that will be used throughout life, but it helps to develop a love of reading and learning from the early years of a child’s development.

1 The pedagogy is built upon the seven-year study known as the Clackmannanshire study. This study found that systematic synthetic phonics is an effective way to teach children to read. It also provided the basis for UK government policies for teaching reading in schools (Johnston & Watson, 2005; Walker et al., 2014)


Goodwin, B. (2012). Research says / address reading problems early. Educational Leadership, 69(6), 80-81. Retrieved from

Johnston, R. S. and Watson, J. E. (2005) A seven year study of the effects of synthetic phonics
teaching on reading and spelling attainment.
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Slavin, R. E., Karweit, N. L., Wasik, B. A., Madden, N. A., & Dolan, L. J. (1994). Success for all: A comprehensive approach to prevention and early intervention. In R. E. Slavin, N. L. Karweit, & B. A. Wasik (Eds.), Preventing early school failure (pp. 175–205). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Walker, M., Bartlett, S., Betts, H., Sainsbury, M., & Worth, J. (2014). Phonics screening check evaluation research report. UK Department of Education. Retrieved from