A charity has hundreds of children waiting to be matched with reading volunteers because of “unprecedented demand” from cash-strapped schools.
Bookmark, a children’s literacy charity, warned that school budget cuts will increase the gap in literacy between richer and poorer pupils.
It is appealing for more volunteers to listen to children read — including remotely — to help undo the damage caused by the pandemic. Adults can be paired with their local primary school or sign up from anywhere in the country to offer 30-minute online reading support twice a week, for six weeks.
Helpers are in short supply, it said, with about 400 children aged between five and nine on a waiting list. Volunteers play literacy and reading games during one-to-one sessions and these can be online or in person.
About one in four children leave primary school unable to read fluently and the head of Ofsted said recently it was one of her biggest concerns.
Amanda Spielman said: “I am worried about children who are still struggling to read when they start secondary school. This year’s tests showed that nearly 175,000 pupils did not meet the expected standard in reading at the end of primary school. That means around a quarter of all Year 7s still have a reading age of below 11.
“This really matters. Children who cannot read well find it difficult to keep up in secondary school. Reading is an essential part of almost every subject. How can children learn history or geography if they can’t get to grips with textbooks or worksheets? How can they do well in another language when they haven’t fully grasped their own?”
Bookmark said that school budget cuts would inevitably mean teacher-to-pupil ratios suffer and that fewer highly-trained staff are able to provide small group and individual support for pupils that need it most.
Graihagh Crawshaw-Sadler, chief executive of Bookmark, said: “We know that poor literacy is devastating for children and can affect their mental wellbeing, which can extend into adulthood. Reading is such a vital life skill. Enjoyment of reading is one of the biggest indicators of future success.
“We’re seeing unprecedented demand for our service and we really need more volunteers to read with a child, for 30 minutes, just twice a week. We know that our volunteers get a lot of satisfaction helping a child develop their literacy skills and the feedback is always so positive.
“We’ve designed our programme to be as accessible as possible, so volunteers can book 30-minute sessions to fit around other commitments, and volunteering online means they easily can take part from home or the office.”
Before the pandemic more than 380,000 children in the UK said they did not have a single book of their own and the charity believes that figure will rise.
About seven million adults have very poor literacy skills, it said, and about half of the children it supports come from disadvantaged homes.
Last month, the government published research showing how secondary schools can help struggling readers by targeting Year 7 pupils with bespoke reading scheme programmes similar to those used in primary school but with more grown-up content.
Its findings were based on the work of six secondary schools that have very high numbers of new pupils with poor literacy but provide additional support.
The research paper said: “As the secondary curriculum places increasing demands on reading comprehension, older pupils who struggle . . . do not catch up.
“Each year, only 10 per cent of disadvantaged children who leave primary school with their reading below the expected standard get passes in English and mathematics at GCSE.”
Schools helped to raise standards by using diagnostic tests to determine which aspects of reading pupils struggled with, such as fluency rates, word reading accuracy and efficiency, and phonic knowledge. This allowed more specific intervention.TIOB News