We recognise that parents require specific guidance on how to support their child with reading at home and have conducted interviews with parents to deepen our knowledge and identify how we can work together to overcome barriers.
Staff at the Advance Learning Partnership, a multi-academy trust based in County Durham, are employing academic research methods and innovative enrichment activities to unlock literacy for families across the county.
“For parents supporting the literacy of our weakest readers, the task of increasing reading engagement at home can be somewhat problematic,” says Peter Mason, Director of Research at ALP. He elaborates, “The SHINE partnership funding has allowed us to resource an in-depth investigation into the barriers encountered by parents attempting to support their child’s reading – during the primary school years but also in the transition period leading into secondary education.”
ALP’s Bridging the Gap partnership is a long-term, sustainable project which aims to improve reading outcomes for disadvantaged children and transform the organisation’s approach to parental engagement. Staff involved in the project focus on improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils with an emphasis on the weakest 20% of readers. Just as importantly, the initiative aims to empower parents to support their children to increase their reading engagement and enhance reading performance.
Catherine Taylor, the trust’s lead for the project, says one of its main objectives is to develop a greater knowledge of the barriers facing children and their parents when completing reading activities at home. “We want to gain an in-depth understanding of reading in the home so that we can target our support for parents more effectively. We recognise that parents require specific guidance on how to support their child with reading at home and have conducted interviews with parents to deepen our knowledge and identify how we can work together to overcome barriers. A lack of specific literacy knowledge, particularly when their child is struggling with their reading, came up in interviews time and time again. Parents want to help, but sometimes don’t know how to do it.”
Catherine explains how their project models literacy practices and the promotion of particular attitudes to reading for parents: “We demonstrate how parents can use paired reading at home to build relationships and develop reading ability. Workshops include modelling of paired reading practice, dealing with complex vocabulary, discussion of a book’s content, style and genre, and even managing the many digital distractions, which families identified as a barrier to their child’s reading engagement.”
Workshops have been enhanced by a partnership with local children’s author, Victoria Downes. Her engaging style of delivery and expert knowledge have been a source of inspiration for both children and parents. ALP has also made excellent links with local libraries which has extended the reach of the project beyond the school gates and into the local community. A visit to Waterstones during the summer holidays further enhanced the reading experience of families; they received vouchers to spend on books and specialist guidance from staff on how to select the most appropriate reading materials.
Having time to examine a range of research literature on the topics of reading and parental engagement has been another unique feature of the project, the resourcing of which was again facilitated by SHINE funding.
Peter says, “In the planning phase, before the construction of the pilot, we ran a series of three internal conferences on reading and parental engagement. This hugely increased our knowledge about the potential barriers. Since then, we’ve explored an array of literature to ensure our planning and implementation have been evidence informed.”
In schools, time is precious. The funding enabled us to read widely and uncover what other studies have to say. This project has taught us that understanding the field – including what has and hasn’t worked in the past – can ensure you make good decisions from the very start of a project.
In fact, Peter feels that an understanding of the research is built into the DNA of the project. “Various previous studies shaped our planning; however, the work of Goodall & Montgomery (2014) and Merga & Mat Roni (2018) stand out as they got us thinking about empowering parents – increasing their agency – rather than simply engaging their interest in the projects.”
Peter says the interviews were important in helping the team understand potentially hidden barriers for families: “We knew from interviews that some parents really lacked confidence in their own reading. Our workshops would need to increase parents’ confidence in both their own reading ability and in supporting their child’s. Happily, data from the pilot included evidence that parents’ confidence had indeed increased over the course of the project.”
SHINE’S financial support has also meant staff working on the project have been able to gain training in using analytical tools and methods such as those relating to parent interviews and data gathering, but equally to have time to consider what has been tried previously.
Peter commented, “In schools, time is precious. The funding enabled us to read widely and uncover what other studies have to say. This project has taught us that understanding the field – including what has and hasn’t worked in the past – can ensure you make good decisions from the very start of a project.”
Using methods more often found in academia has facilitated a much clearer understanding of parents’ perspectives and needs.
Peter says, “We try not to make assumptions about either our parents or what might be used to enhance reading engagement and pupil literacy. For example, we were surprised by how highly literate parents still experience a lack of confidence in motivating their child to read for pleasure. This knowledge informed our planning of workshop activities which involved strategies for parents in brokering reading engagement and managing digital distractions.”
Parents’ own reading ability can influence how they support their child’s literacy at home. Judith Hodgson, Primary Lead for the programme says, “Our families benefitted the most from workshops where we scaffolded activities to support parents’ reading needs. Then our author would model low-stakes reading activities which were engaging and placed an emphasis on fun. Once parents had a chance to read together with their child in a supportive setting, they themselves really grew in confidence.”
The impact of the project so far has been measured in a variety of ways. Project leaders recognise that a range of factors will have contributed to pupils’ improved reading performance since the programme began. However, SATs and reading test scores both improved over the course of the pilot. Equally, the team were delighted to see increased levels of reading engagement in pupils, while parental confidence in supporting their child’s literacy also rose across the pilot project.
Catherine says, ‘We have learned a great deal about engaging effectively with parents; this new knowledge is informing the second phase of our project. Our reshaped understanding of the barriers some parents face has been a revelation and parent interview data has influenced strategy beyond the SHINE project as other leaders across the trust have evaluated their parental engagement programmes.”
ALP is now in the second year of the project which has involved scaling up by working with several new primary and secondary schools. The trust’s plan for sustaining and scaling the intervention from the outset has been integral to the success of the project and the implementation process itself has been guided by research, specifically the EEF report on “Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation”.
Ensuring that children can read fluently and become lifelong readers is an ALP priority and the trust’s collaboration with SHINE is supporting them to achieve their goals.