How one school teamed up with the National Literacy Trust to encourage Reading for Pleasure in its students
‘We’ve received hundreds of free books’
‘Many of the children at our Middlesbrough primary school come from homes where there are no books and no culture of reading. So for the past five years we’ve worked with the National Literacy Trust to promote Reading for Pleasure (RfP) as a way of building cultural capital. Most schools know how difficult it is to secure funding for reading books. Since we are in an area of high deprivation – with 60% of our children receiving Free School Meals – the charity’s help with providing books has had a huge impact. Our pupils have also benefited from its many reading-related events and activities.
Together with the National Literacy Trust, we’ve developed a bespoke strategy to make Reading for Pleasure an agent for social change. It is consistently prioritised in our School Development Plan and we currently have a member of SLT whose teaching and learning responsibility is to promote RfP throughout the school, involving all stakeholders. Our mission statement says that RfP is central to the ethos of our school as we know from research by the OECD (2002) that: ‘Being a frequent reader is more of an advantage than having well educated parents. Finding ways to engage students in reading may be one of the most effective ways to leverage social change.’ We aim not only to have every child leaving primary school able to read, but also to create lifelong readers.
We have a well-established Reading Working Party which includes both teachers and teaching assistants from across the key stages. Meetings allow for good practice and strategies to be shared throughout the school and for reading events to be planned thoroughly and effectively. RfP events are continual throughout the year. Due to our children’s minimal life experiences, CPD allows staff to carefully choose texts that introduce children to ideas and worlds outside of their everyday lives, increasing their cultural capital and improving their vocabulary and love of reading.
Help with reading and books
In the last few years, our pupils have received free books through various initiatives run by the National Literacy Trust in Middlesbrough, enabling us to create a buzz around reading and to build up a really good school library of more than 500 titles. Our Year 5 pupils take part in the Young Readers Programme, which includes two exciting in-house events, a trip to meet an author and incredibly a donation of three books per child (which they can choose from a catalogue of extensive titles).
Our children were also among all Year 6 and 7 pupils in the town who recently received a copy of Marcus Rashford’s book You Are A Champion, as part of the National Literacy Trust’s partnership with Macmillan Children’s Books. Additionally, we have benefited from the generous donation of magazines and audio books, which particularly help our less confident readers. Each year we take part in the Summer Reading Challenge. It’s an excellent way of encouraging our children to visit the local library, promoting our aim of creating lifelong readers.
Working with parents
It is an ongoing challenge to engage parents and carers with this push on reading, so we now have teachers reading bedtime stories on our website and we allocate the last 15 minutes of every school day for each teacher to read to their class. We produce a termly newsletter to keep our parents informed of our RfP events. This also provides details of the local library and bookshops the children can visit with their parents.
Throughout the key stages we take part in many reading initiatives (Early Words Together, Little Big Book Club and Reading Together events) where parents are invited into school to join in RfP activities and are shown how to read together at home. Each academic year, parents are encouraged to sign a contract stating that they will work with their child to read at home and support them where necessary.
As a result of all this activity, our pupils’ reading is going from strength to strength. Our Key Stage 2 SATs show that 48% of our pupils are reading at ‘greater depth’, which is expected to be well above the national average. For many, books provide escapism to other worlds. Even if there isn’t enough money for them to go on trips, reading unlocks the curriculum and the wider world for them. We are one of 25 schools in England working towards the UK Literacy Association’s Reading for Pleasure quality mark which is being run for the first time this year.
Thanks to the National Literacy Trust’s support, our children love reading and will happily talk about a book they are reading or a new author they like. Their confidence has soared, as has their cultural capital. In our current setting, we understand that RfP is a matter of social justice and it will always be the heartbeat of our school.’
- Catherine Steel-Brewster, deputy headteacher, Beech Grove Primary School, Middlesbrough (468 pupils)
Breaking the cycle
Research shows that children who enjoy reading are three times more likely to have a good level of wellbeing compared to those who don’t. Since 2013, the National Literacy Trust has established 20 hubs to tackle low literacy in areas of high disadvantage. The first was in Middlesbrough – the sixth most deprived local authority area in the country, with 55 languages spoken from 49 different countries. The hubs are a way of working directly with local communities (families, schools, local government and businesses) to improve reading, writing, speaking and listening skills for children – and to break the intergenerational cycle of low literacy and poverty.
To see if your school is in an area where the charity works, visit literacytrust.org.uk/communities. The website also provides resources and tools for primary and secondary teachers to support strategic literacy planning, including creating a whole school reading environment or developing subject knowledge in grammar. Many resources are available as part of the free membership. Premium resources are available to paid members (£100 for a whole-school 12-month subscription).
Libraries and literacy links