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The second Patron of Reading conference

Posted by [email protected] on February 28, 2015 at 10:45 AM

The second Patron of Reading conference took place at The Art Workers' Guild in London on Saturday 21st February 2015. It was opened by Tim Redgrave and Helena Pielichaty, whose opening message was that all schools are different, and therefore all school and patron relationships are different. There's no right way to be a Patron of Reading! Tim talked about how important it is for schools to move away from the 'reading for a test’ culture and how working with a patron can help that. He finished a quote from a child in his school, who said 'Without a patron I might read five books. With a patron I might read...well, more than five.' Helena ended with two pieces of practical advice: Schools, always value your patron, and patrons, don't overwhelm your schools with ideas because they'll never have the capacity to implement them all! She also emphasised that being a Patron of Reading was one of the best experiences of her writing career.


Session 1

The first session consisted of talks by Alan Macdonald (author), Josh Seigal (poet), Gillian Cross (author) and Mandy Wilson (librarian) about how they viewed the role of the patron.


Alan talked about the importance of schools with engaging with authors. He suggested that when an author is approached by a school, they should ask them a few questions. The questions could include: Why do you want a patron? Why am I the right patron for you? In practical terms, what do you want to achieve from having a patron? He talked about how his role is having a huge impact on the children of his school, but also about how it had expanded into a much bigger role than had he first thought. It is important to move away from a 'standard' author visit and try to make every visit different. Involving parents is a key to success, but the most important advice was to make reading fun! The head of his school said 'We haven't had a moment's regret about having a Patron of Reading.'


Gillian shared her experiences of being a patron in two schools. She talked about how different the schools were and what a great opportunity it was for the schools to collaborate and broaden the children's experiences. She suggested that schools work together to shadow book awards and that a blog could be set up between the schools, allowing the students to communicate and share book recommendations. The schools could also take encouragement from each other's commitment to reading and feel that they are part of a bigger reading community. If an author wants to be a patron of more than one school, they should try and aim for two different types of school.


After performing a wonderful poem called Don't Call Out!, Josh spoke about his patron experiences in two different schools. He then talked more specifically about how he has used his skills as a poet in his role and what advice he would offer to other poet patrons:


• Performance- With poetry, the written poem is only half the job. It only really comes alive when it is performed!

• Participation- All children can succeed at reading and writing poetry. A love of poetry can lead to a love of all literacy.

• Possibility- Poetry can have an impact on any reader at any age. There are no limits...


Mandy finished the opening session by talking about the initiative through the eyes of a librarian. She shared the experiences that her school had had with their patron (the graphic novelists Metaphrog) and how it had changed the reading culture in the school. She offered practical advice on choosing a patron and making sure that they are the right 'fit' for the school, and how important it was for the relationship to keep evolving. She emphasised that one of the most important aspects of a successful relationship was the support of the headteacher and the leadership team. Mandy then talked about the value of the patrons having one main point of contact in the school, and how the feedback of pupils was crucial in planning future sessions.


Session 2

This session was led by three authors who were all relatively new patrons, Jo Cotterill, Julia Suzuki and Julia Grant.


Jo opened by talking about how that school had chosen her because she already had a relationship with them. She then listed a long list of ideas that she and the school had generated at the start of the year (book recommendations, displays, Patron of Reading prize, etc) but then admitted that due to time issues and the constraints of the school curriculum, they hadn’t all been implemented. It is crucially important for schools and patrons to manage their expectations at the start of their relationship.


Julia Suzuki has recently been appointed as Patron of Reading at one of her old schools. She spoke about authors being an inspiration to children and shared some of the different areas that she had worked in at the school (supporting gifted & talented pupils, working with children who have English as an additional language, etc). Julia felt was important for each visit to have a structure and a clear objective in order to have the maximum impact.


Julia Green had heard about the initiative at a conference hosted by the Bristol SLS. She had been approached by a librarian and then produced a document for the school to show what she felt could be achieved. She had three main objectives:

• To give reading a higher profile in the school, both with students and staff.

• To turn non-readers into readers.

• To give passionate readers the chance to meet and engage with each other.

She planned to get all staff on board with the idea but it hadn’t quite happened as yet. Julia’s key message was to let the school lead and set the pace.


Session 3

After lunch, Denyse Kirkby talked passionately about some of the whole school reading challenges that she has successfully introduced into her patron school and what being a Patron of Reading meant to her. She was followed by a workshop where patrons and schools went off into groups to share ideas and tips for having a Patron of Reading. These suggestions can be found in the ‘News’ section of the Patron of Reading website.


Session 4

The final main session of the day was chaired by Prue Goodwin. She introduced three speakers, Anne Sarrag from the Reading Agency, Miranda McKearney from the Empathy Lab and Ian Coles from the Big Green Bookshop.


Anne gave a brief overview of the work of the Reading Agency and what they are doing in order to encourage children to read for pleasure. The evidence from the UKLA supports the idea that the Summer Reading Challenge helps prevent the ‘summer dip’ in children’s reading ability. She talked about the importance of schools and patrons working together, and suggested that the Patron of Reading could help give the SRC a much higher profile in schools. It is important for patrons to try and engage with parents at a school, and perhaps a letter home from the patron and the opportunity to engage via social media would help with this.


Ian and the Big Green Bookshop are responsible for setting up the first local ‘chapter’ of patrons in Haringey. Although this is in its very early stages, he explained how all of the local authors and schools had engaged with it so far. They were planning to meet a couple of times a year in order to share good practice and work together to create a resource bank that could be used by all schools and patrons. He talked about how many parents come into the BGB with their children talking about how much they enjoyed author visits and how much they inspired them to read. If a one-off visit could create so much enthusiasm for reading, then how much more could a Patron of Reading create?


The final speaker of the day was Miranda McKearney who was talking about the Empathy Lab. She spoke about how words and stories can have so much power to build empathy in children and about how authors are often the ultimate empathy agents. Through their writing, an author can model to a child that it is absolutely fine to talk about their feelings in an open way. She talked about research that shows how reading fiction can improve the brain’s capacity for empathy and what a crucial role schools and patrons can play in this area of a child’s development.



Helena finished the day by reiterating what a pleasure it had been to be involved with the initiative and how important it was to gear the whole Patron of Reading experience towards reading for pleasure. Real reading is reading for pleasure! There was a brief discussion about whether it would be of value to hold another conference next year or whether smaller regional meetings would be more productive (no firm conclusion was reached!). 

The conference closed with final thanks from Helena Pielichaty, Tim Redgrave, Jon Biddle and Denyse Kirkby.


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1 Comment

Reply Kate Kiff
1:25 PM on February 28, 2015 
A excellent day. Lots of new ideas and ways to drive the scheme forward! Thank you for these notes Jon!