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Float away with books

Raise the profile of reading in your school and get pupils talking about their favourite stories. Hannah Frankel tells you how.

Werneth School in Stockport was not renowned for its reading culture. In March 2006, Ofsted said it needed improving, book loans were low and few ventured into the aged library.

So when the inspectors returned a year later to praise Werneth's literacy drive, the school was rightly proud, even more so when it was named the Reading Connects (a government funded initiative that encourages whole- school reading) secondary school of the year 200607.

Its two-year "reading for pleasure" started with a bang. All 54 forms wrote their "book of all time" and email address on a piece of paper, before inserting them into red helium balloons. When they marched into the playground to release the balloons, half the school came out to watch.

"It certainly raised the profile of reading," says Nikki Heath, school librarian. "It got the pupils talking about books - some for the first time."

Since then, the scheme has burst into action. Every half-term a bell rings and everyone in the school, without exception, drops what they are doing and reads for 20 minutes.

A summer sports challenge, centred around anything from Formula 1 to the World Cup, sounds more like a giant treasure hunt than a reading drive, but it gets the pupils researching, writing and reading without even noticing, says Sally Westrope, literacy co-ordinator.

"We link what we do with other departments and that gets staff on board," she says. "They recognise it's lifting their workload, not adding to it."

Werneth is also harnessing the appeal of video games to encourage and motivate pupils to read. "Children are surrounded by multi-media entertainment and you're not going to stop that," says Sally. "But you can use these mediums to draw them into reading. We get reluctant readers to read video game manuals if that's what they're interested in."

And if they value technology, that is what they receive as rewards. Football shirts, iPods, cinema tickets or money are all common prizes in reading competitions, alongside free bowling or Quasar Laser trips.

School reading events are also filmed, edited, put to music and shown in assembly - much to the excitement of pupils who are keen to make their film debut. Other initiatives see specially trained Year 10s helping weaker Year 7 readers before school, and a whole-school book debating day.

The drive has seen book loans in the newly-painted library increase by almost 70 per cent in three years to about 10,000 a year.

And now that all staff and pupils see standards rising, they increasingly buy into the school message that "reading makes you better at everything".

TOP TIPS

- Get the senior management team involved.

- Ensure a reading drive makes life easier for staff.

- Ask pupils how they want to be rewarded for reading and honour it.

- Bounce ideas around with other staff and delegate roles.

- Use photos and videos to transform pupils and staff into reading celebrities.

- Avoid snobbishness. All reading is good reading.

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