Patron of Reading

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Interview with Angela Lucey, assistant head at Beck Primary School.

Posted by on November 7, 2013 at 3:45 PM

Alan Macdonald, author of the hugely popular Dirty Bertie series and about 100 other titles has recently started in his role as Patron of Reading at Beck Primary School in Sheffield. Angela Lucey, previously the English coordinator and now assistant head and Reading Recovery teacher at the school, has kindly agreed to talk about the impact that the scheme is having on their children and staff.


Why did you decide to get a Patron of Reading for your school?

Our school is located on a large council estate in Sheffield. The population we serve is one of the most deprived with our percentage of free school meals being way above the national average. It follows that reading isn't always at the top of our families agenda. As literacy co-ordinator I worked for many years to improve reading standards within school and these have improved year on year and whilst this was very pleasing I still felt that something was missing. I went to a conference and a speaker opened with the line 'If I could give you one tip for the future, reading would be it.' Something clicked and we set about trying to show our children and families that reading has a direct impact on their future. Later, I attended Active Citizen training with the National Literacy Trust and from that came an email from Jon Biddle regarding the Patron of Reading scheme and I thought this could be the missing link. When we approached Alan he didn't immediately say yes. Another school had also approached him and he asked us both to answer some questions (see below) to help him decide on a school. I have included part of my answer to his first question.

Why does your school want a Patron of Reading?

We are a very large primary school in you would be reaching a LOT of children! We are situated on a large council estate in a socially and economically deprived area.

I have been literacy co-ordinator here for several years and have been working hard to try and raise the profile of reading. Reading was seen as something that had to be done rather than to be enjoyed. What I am trying to achieve here is an environment where a love of reading is inspired in our children. We want reading to be something that is valued by our children and parents. We have invested a great deal of money into 'real' books and we try to encourage reading at any given opportunity. Despite all of our efforts we do have a significant proportion of children who do not voluntarily engage with reading. Some of our parents have low literacy levels so are unable to support their children at home and the knock on effect of this, is that they do not value literacy or give a positive message to our children about it (this is where you - hopefully- come in!)

We would like a patron so that children have a concrete example of a positive role model who can enthuse and generate excitement. I really do believe that literacy and particularly reading is the key to having a chance at success in life. We want our children to see authors as real people and realise that there is no reason that they cannot aspire to be one themselves if they choose! As well as being a role model we want our patron to have a 'presence' in school, physically and remotely! At times when we book visits, we would be wanting you to work alongside our children to help ignite the imagination, to let the mind free and see what comes! I also want them to have the opportunity to have books read to them by the voice that wrote them and for them to be able to ask questions and have discussions. I want the children to feel that we have a real connection and that the patron is interested in them and our school.

Why do you think I'd be the right author for you ?

What would you like the author to offer in practical terms - both in visits and through the general link?

Are there any specific projects/ideas you have in mind?

This was actually a great thing to do, it focussed the mind and made me really think about what we were hoping to achieve. It was also good to think about why we thought Alan was the right author, because I do think that getting the right author for the school and vice versa is key to the success of the partnership.


How do you see the partnership developing over the next couple of years?

We have five visits booked this year with Alan working with all Key Stages. The children are hugely motivated by his visits and we are working hard to take advantage of that. During his visits we have a working lunch with a designated working party to keep the momentum going. So far we have completely revamped reading areas within classrooms with all teachers taking part in a competition to put in place the most engaging book area. We have put in place a reading challenge that all children are taking part in, Alan has set the final challenge and there will be a presentation ceremony at the end of the year. We are currently shortlisting for the Beck Book Awards and children will be reading and voting for their favourite. Alan was here yesterday working with Y5 and Y6 (180 children) the response was amazing from both children and staff. I received so many positive comments from children and appreciative emails from staff.


What impact do you think it will have on children reading for pleasure?

We are already starting to see an impact. At the end of Alan's visit yesterday he kindly agreed to hold a book signing, the turnout was stunning, we never imagined that so many parents and children would purchase his books and then queue - for an hour in some cases to get them signed. They left the hall as though they were carrying a most treasured belonging, which of course is how we want our children to feel about books. I also think that having a Patron of Reading keeps reading high profile and children are constantly engaging with reading initiatives now that probably wouldn't have happened had we not put this in place. We have noticed a significant increase in the amount of reading that our children are doing, they change their books more regularly and at break times are often seen to be choosing a book over the other activities that are provided on the yards. Another great response from yesterday was when a parent remarked to me this morning that they had gone home and at bed time had snuggled up and started reading the book together - she couldn't remember the last time they had done this. I have to say I'm pretty proud of what we are achieving together here.


How have the staff of the school supported the initiative? Has it had an impact on their attitudes to reading?

Staff have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. When we introduced the Patron of Reading idea to staff in the summer term they could all see that it would benefit our children. I don't think anyone realised the impact that it would have though. We run early transition here, the last few weeks of the year children move up to their next year's teacher and we used this as an opportunity to run a mini topic on Alan's books throughout school. This was really beneficial as it familiarised children and staff with a wide range of his work - he immediately had status! The workshops that Alan is running on his visits here this year have been really well received so far, the staff were equally as fired up as the children. We have always tried to be 'reading friendly' but there has been a definite shift in attitudes and reading is now right there in the centre of everything that is going on. That's made me incredibly happy!


Is there any advice that you would give to schools (and authors) who would like to get involved?

The first thing is to do it, absolutely and without hesitation I would say that. Secondly spend some time thinking about your children in school, what their interests are and whether there are any particular target groups you want to try and engage. For us it was important to engage the boys by choosing an author who would appeal to them as well as girls and to try and find someone who would have an impact from nursery right through to year 6. I'm delighted that Alan agreed to be our Patron because he is perfect for us. Equally, from an authors point of view I am sure the same applies, the school has to fit what they are interested in and hopefully they have a shared vision about what they would like to achieve. Maybe you should ask Alan about the authors point of view he can no doubt add more about that!


Any other comments

Only to say that we haven't had a moments regret about getting involved with this. I think it has been one of the greatest factors in raising the profile of reading that I've put in place, it's also been significant in team working, we now have a strong working party all working together to promote reading, whether that be in the curriculum, the reading environment or reading for pleasure. Yesterday after what had been a really successful day I went home and thought...'when I leave this place I think this will be the thing of which I am most proud.'

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