Innovative practice - Author advocates

Recruiting a 'patron of reading' was one school's answer to the problem of pupils' reluctance to pick up a book

Darren Evans

The background

Plenty of schools have invited authors in to inspire pupils to enjoy reading, but Tim Redgrave, headteacher of small north Wales junior school Ysgol Esgob Morgan, wanted to take it a step further.

Redgrave is passionate about having his pupils read for pleasure and hit upon the idea of recruiting a "patron of reading" to bring books to life, especially for boys.

"I know schools have 'adopted' an author, but I wanted someone who would support the development of reading and offer endorsements to the children in their efforts by way of contact," he says. "I want to give pupils an emotional attachment to books so that they want to read for the sake of it."

The project

Esgob Morgan had already had a visit from children's writer and former teacher Helena Pielichaty, author of the Simone series of books and the popular After School Club series. So Redgrave contacted her and asked if she would like to be involved.

In May Pielichaty spent a day at the school and told pupils about her love of reading and how she started writing. She then delivered some creative writing classes.

Both she and Redgrave were keen to make sure this wasn't just a one-off event, so as the school's patron of reading for the next three years, Pielichaty will donate copies of her new books and suggest other books that the pupils can read. The children will also have the chance to take part in Skype reading sessions with her, and she has agreed to help put them in touch with other authors she knows.

Redgrave is encouraging his pupils to read Pielichaty's books and write reviews of them, and has promised to send her examples of their creative writing. Follow-up visits are also planned.

Tips from the scheme

Pick the right "patron" for your school. Redgrave says: "I always think a head is a reflection of a school and vice versa, and Helena and I share the same sort of personality. Personality is important, because if they are not enthusiastic and full of life then the children are not going to be either."

Keep it going to make sure it's not just a one-off event or a gimmick. Pielichaty will maintain links to Esgob Morgan with annual visits.

Make sure teachers keep reading alive in the classroom, emphasising that reading is fun.

Evidence that it works?

Redgrave said the visit had sparked an enthusiasm for reading and writing among pupils, especially boys. He said the quality of creative writing from a Year 4 class inspired by the visit was "phenomenal".

He has also been invited by the local authority to speak at future events and conferences as a best practice case study for improving literacy.

The project

Approach: Using a renowned children's author as a patron of reading

Started: 2012

Leader: Tim Redgrave, headteacher

The school

Name: Ysgol Esgob Morgan

Location: St Asaph, Denbighshire, North Wales

Pupils: 95

Age range: 7-11

Intake: The school serves a largely urban catchment area where 75 per cent of pupils are neither economically advantaged or disadvantaged

Inspectors' overall rating: Good (Estyn, 2007).

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Darren Evans

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