Covid: School readers needed 'more than ever' to aid literacy

By Alex Pope
BBC News, East

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image copyrightSchoolReaders
image captionVolunteer Chris Dowd said he "wasn't sure it was going to work", but children had taken to remote online reading with him

A charity that recruits volunteers to listen to pupils read says it is "going to be needed more than ever" when schools fully reopen.

Schoolreaders, a Bedford-based literacy organisation, says reading attainment has fallen during the lockdowns.

Jane Whitbread, its director, said: "It's almost like we were created for this time; we are needed so much now."

The charity had seen a rise in the number of volunteers, who "can bring a book to life", she said.

"We were vital before Covid, as then one in four children were leaving primary school not reading to the expected standard," said Ms Whitbread.

"Reading skills have fallen even further and research from Juniper Education has shown there's been a 25% drop in year one pupils achieving the expected level of reading from the start of the pandemic to the autumn.

"Getting a child to enjoy reading isn't easy, but it's about volunteers showing interest in the child and exploring the book together.

"A lot of children don't get the opportunity for an adult to do that with them."

image copyrightSchoolreaders
image captionVolunteers were able to hear children read in schools before the first lockdown began in March 2020

The charity places volunteers with schools across the country.

Due to lockdown restrictions and safeguarding issues, only children who are in school can interact with volunteers and it has to be online.

Chris Dowd, one of those volunteers, said: "I wasn't sure it was going to work, but it is a joy.

"I love it, the kids love it and the class teacher loves it.

"Being part of Schoolreaders has been one of the highlights of my life."

Andrea Ward, head teacher of Renhold VC Primary near Bedford, said: "We passionately believe that teaching children to read is one of our core purposes and reading culture links directly to children's attainment."

image copyrightSchoolreaders
image caption"Reading is the cornerstone needed in order to access learning and education," said Jane Whitbread

Prof Andy Goodwyn, from the English department at the University of Bedfordshire, said due to the lockdowns "reading ages may have stagnated and, for children from disadvantaged families, such ages may have considerably declined".

"As reading is a key to the whole curriculum there is likely be a knock-on effect on learning in other subject areas," he said.

Organisations like Schoolreaders can play a "significant part to address this huge challenge" he added.

image copyrightSchoolreaders
image captionThe charity has seen its "little army" of volunteers almost double from 1,270 in March 2020 to 2,395 at present

The BBC has asked the Department for Education to comment on the government's plans regarding attainment levels in reading.

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