Education Secretary Nicky Morgan's recent teaming up with comedian and author David Walliams has resulted in an exciting new literacy campaign. The ultimate goal to improve the standard of literacy for all children, regardless of background, is an important one to achieve. Progress has been made in this arena and statistics suggest that compared to five years ago, almost 34,000 more young people are leaving primary school able to read properly. But one in five children are still unable to read well enough to perform at secondary school. Significant action is required.
The campaign sees an introduction of many more book clubs into primary schools and demonstrates a clear commitment to driving reading for pleasure and reading for purpose. Without these things we will struggle to achieve success in literacy. Too often I meet with children aged around six or seven, who have decided that reading is 'just one of those things that I have to do'. You can see their thought process: "I look at a combination of letters and make the sounds and I try to do this as fast as I can and when I'm done everyone says 'good job'." When I ask them to tell me about what they've just read or how it made them feel I'm met with a blank expression; "How am I meant to know that? I'm just making the sounds?"
The extension of the Chatterbooks scheme into 200 more primary schools will be a welcome addition and hopefully it will encourage others to have a go too. The flexible book clubs invite children to read books outside of school, for pleasure and then discuss them with a group. It's a simple process that can have very dramatic results on shifting a child to see reading as something more than 'decoding'.
The beauty of a book club, as we've found over the last few years of running book clubs at Explore Learning, is the process of reflection - thinking about what you read, what it meant and how it made you feel. These are all such important developments for challenging the way we see the world and the part we play in it. It also helps you to structure your response, think about how to explain your emotions in a way that other people will understand. Practising summarising, distilling the essence of the message, understanding the author's purpose are complex skills that are essential for secondary school and so much easier if we can practise them regularly.
In addition to the book clubs one other improvement we could seek is providing parents and children with enough appropriate reading material for their child. The reading scheme levels are a fantastic gauge for parents but you can spend a fortune buying books of those levels to have at home for over the weekend, holidays or days that your child forgets to bring a book home from school. My experience has been that the local library has a very limited selection of books that match those schemes although they are a fabulous source for bedtime stories and books to read independently as your child gets older. I have found that a reading book scheme such as Reading Chest has been invaluable - an unlimited supply for books through the post that were appropriately challenging for my children has really helped us on the way to reading independence.
However, there is an initial hurdle that we have to get all children over and that is being able to read early enough that they start to access materials that excite them before they decide that reading is a chore and never something they would choose to do.
As a parent of two girls at primary school I regularly pop into school to listen to children read. For some children I will be the only adult they read to that week. That isn't because the school is doing a poor job, far from it; they are covering many, many skills with those children. They will be exposed to lots of phonics practise and group read activities. However, taking time out of the schedule more than once a week for children to read one-to-one with an adult is challenging and sadly those children are not reading at home or being read to. Reading once or twice a week will not be enough for a child to master this very complex skill.
I believe reading should be seen as an essential ingredient to childhood just as eating our 'five a day' is for our health. Reading once a day, every day will develop into a habit that will stay around for life.
Working with children at Explore Learning, it is always a supreme pleasure to see the moment a child has evolved from a child learning to read. To a child who has just used their reading for a purpose for the first time: "Wow, I just found out that a monkey went up into space!" and the ecstatic expression, the glimmer in their eyes of this new knowledge that came about independently without being told. Reading is freedom - reading really does change everything.
So, alongside this initiative let's keep driving reading every day. It doesn't matter who's doing the reading - parent or child - ideally both - let's make it happen. And if you have an hour to spare let's get more and more adults sharing their love of reading with children at their local school - every interaction will help.