Project in County Durham schools aims to get children reading

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A new project being piloted in County Durham schools is aiming to get children reading.

The scheme, which has been backed by a £50,000 grant from SHINE, will see schools working with parents to encourage more young people to read at home.

The ALP Advantage project is initially being piloted at Brandon Primary Academy and Parkside Academy in Willington, but the plan is to roll it out across all schools in the Advance Learning Partnership (ALP).

With a focus on the 20% least capable readers and the most disadvantaged students, it is hoped the initiative will narrow the reading age gap between these children and their peers.

The pilot will assess different approaches to find out what works best before the project is rolled out across the other schools.

A key aim is to better engage parents by gaining a greater understanding of their specific context and needs and providing them with practical support which will impact positively on their children’s reading habits.

The children taking part are in their final year of primary school and first year of secondary.

Catherine Taylor, School Improvement Partner at the Advance Learning Partnership, said: “We are passionate about ensuring that children can read fluently so that they can read independently and for pleasure and we want to support parents by providing a toolkit of ideas to use at home.

“This project provides a unique opportunity for us to take a different approach towards how we can engage parents and support their children.”

The project began with one-on-one conversations between the trust’s Director of Research and parents.

“We wanted to find out from parents what kind of reading experiences they’d had as a child and deepen our understanding of barriers that might impact on reading at home. This has enabled us to build a bespoke programme of workshops to meet parents’ needs,” said Catherine.

“The findings from the interviews have been illuminating and have provided us with an excellent insight into what would be beneficial for parents and how we can support them effectively.

“It’s also helped us to understand some of the challenges that we weren’t previously aware of.”

Parents are being invited to attend reading workshops with their children, some of which have been led by locally-based author, Victoria Downes.

At the workshops, parents are shown the strategy of paired reading, which involves the parent and child reading together and then at a point where the child feels confident, the child takes over the reading independently.

“During the workshops, we could see how much parents and their children had enjoyed reading together and they went away enthused about their books. We were delighted by how much they had enjoyed it.”

Parents are asked to commit to three twenty-minute paired reading sessions at home, which complement additional work that is taking place in schools.

The project also includes activities taking place outside of school, at a local library.

“We felt that being able to connect with the local library would be a real asset to the project and would help us to build strong community links, whilst also supporting the longevity and sustainability of our project” explained Catherine.

Children and their parents are being invited to a series of fun events, which will continue through the summer holidays, each designed to help promote a love of reading.

In the project’s first few months, the focus has been on children in the final year of primary, but these children will continue to engage with paired reading as they move up to secondary.

“The collaboration between primary and secondary colleagues is supporting our work on transition whilst also developing the professional learning of colleagues.”

Another key aspect of the project is a programme of professional development for school staff, who have been shown how to use the new reading strategies which are being trialled by the trust. They have also benefitted from a series of conferences which have provided opportunities to explore the findings from research on reading and parental engagement.

Catherine says it is important that children read fluently, for multiple reasons.

“Reading lies at the heart of the curriculum, and it is of the utmost importance to a student’s personal, social, and academic success, as well as their general wellbeing.”

The project will run until 2025, but it is hoped by then that the new strategies around reading will have become embedded into all schools in the ALP trust, resulting in sustained impact for many years to come.

Catherine added: “The funding from SHINE has enabled us to put this project into action. We’re motivated by the opportunity to make a positive impact on the life chances of children in our schools.”