Improving Reading for our Poorest Children
I went to London last Tuesday and was home just in time to put the girls to bed. Molly, my six year old,asked if she could read a story to her sister before bed. I was pretty tired so jumped at the chance. She picked one of the twins’ favourite books and sat them down in front of her. It was so lovely to see them. Of course they all still demanded a story afterwards. For my girls a story at night time is a right and they are totally horrified if I suggest missing it for one night, even if they have just had one from their sister.
On Tuesday I went to the House of Lords as part ofSave The Children’s campaign with beanstalk for improving children’s reading. It is a shocking statistic that a fifth of 7-year-olds from poorer families are already behind in reading. The reasons are complex but I know as a parent how hard it is to prioritise reading when lives are so busy and money is tight. When I was a young childless teacher I never understood why parents said there wasn’t time to read with their children every night – I remember thinking how hard can it be to find ten minutes a night. Now I’m a parent I shake my head wearily, in a You-Have-No-Idea kind of way. Reading is a huge priority for me but finding that precious time when it is quiet, I’m not stressed, the children aren’t too tired is pretty hard.
Now I totally understand why it is so hard. But added to lack of time an apathy about education, poor skills, lack of money for books. No wonder reading is such a huge issue.
I wish reading was seen as a right and a reward for all children. I wish every child had that desire to read and be read to, that love and passion for reading. I wish every child could have the joy and delight of reading a book for yourself for the first time, of reading a book in one sitting and getting so lost in the characters it is a shock when you put it down, of staying up way to later, knowing you’ll hate yourself in the morning, but just having to read one more chapter. On the train back from London I had devoured the whole of Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls, one of the author’s we met in London. The train was hot and crowded but I was so gripped by the book that I barely noticed. Reading is so powerful.
Change The Story
So what can we do? There is a definite short fall at the moment. If only there was time so that children could be read with every day. While we were in The House of Lords a number of people talked passionately about the importance of reading. It struck me that without that all important skill none of them would be in their jobs. From politician to inspiring author reading is essential. The thing about reading is that it isn’t just a skill which you need to tick off in order to get a job. Being able to read is transformative. The highlight of the day for me was listening to Lauren Child speak, and you can see a little section of what she said in the clip at the top. My girls love her Charlie and Lola and Clarence Bean books but she focused on one of our other favourites That Pesky Rat describing how street children in the poorest countries could really identify with that story of loneliness. That is the true power of reading for me: that you can pick up a book and suddenly you are no longer alone in the world and there is somebody else out there who understands.
Time For Change
The feeling in the room was definitely one of possibilities. I came home so inspired that I couldn’t sleep. If so many influential people can unite together then there is a real possibility that we can change these young children’s lives. When I told people what I was doing last week their questions all centered around Michael Gove and what he had to say. I couldn’t help feeling intrigued myself about the man who has made so many controversial policies. He identified the link between poor attainment in reading and poverty later in life. It was good top seen someone so important backing a scheme which will actually do something to improve things. I would love this to be the start of something positive: that time is spent on something other than league tables and devoted to allowing teachers to do what they do best. (No I don’t mean drink tea. Or multitask). Teach.
The question always has to come back to this: what can we do? There is a time deficit. Children will improve in reading if they regularly read 1 on 1 to an adult as close to every day as possible. In most schools there aren’t enough hours or resources to be able to do this. Beanstalk is a volunteer reading scheme where volunteers are put into schools in disadvantaged areas to read with a child for an hour twice a week. It seems so little but will really make a difference. For me, the most inspiring people at the event were the volunteers. It didn’t sound easy. They admitted to getting their own education in some of the most challenging schools they went to. The problem is recruiting people, especially men. Save the Children want to recruit 20,000 more volunteers. It’s possible but we have to get the message out there. Two hours a week seems so little but could really change a young person’s life. It’s not just the reading skills they gain but that valuable undivided attention which will give them the confidence to succeed.
What can you do?
Please sign up to be a Change Maker and make a real difference to children’s lives. If you don’t have time yourself then think of someone who might do, a grandparent or friend. Help us spread the word by talking about the campaign in your local community, to your family and friends and encouraging more people to sign up. You can read more about the campaign here.
For more on the campaign read these posts: