Like many schools, Felsted Primary in Essex has been concerned about the national decline in children reading for pleasure. Graham Silvester, a Year 5 teacher and the school's art co-ordinator, hit on the idea of using superheroes to encourage pupils to read.
The project tied in with the National Literacy Trust's Reading Champions scheme, which the school joined in 2007 to help promote books to reluctant readers, especially boys.
Mr Silvester designed a series of reading superheroes - starting off with Major Read. The costumed crusader soon gained a sidekick, Paige Turner. Since then three more heroes have joined them: Dick Shaun Airey, Brooke Shelf and Theo Sauruss.
Each is played by a staff member at Felsted, in full costume. They appear occasionally at assemblies and prize-givings, and get children to sing along to a specially written "reading song".
The heroes are the icing on the school's Reading Power programme, which involves all the pupils filling in reading diaries. Every week a pupil from each class is chosen as the reading champion based on their diary, and they have their photograph placed on the hall noticeboard. Each champion can pick one of five bookmarks featuring the school's superheroes. Once they have collected all five, they can claim a free book.
The school also brings in readers from the community, including parents and children from the local secondary school.
All parents are given a leaflet, Major Read's Guide to Encouraging Your Child to Read at Home, and can access a recommended book list, featuring books for pupils of different ages, on the school's website. Children can also add their own book reviews to the site.
Tips from the scheme
- It is crucial to involve parents in a project like this, headteacher Lawrence Garside says.
- If you bring in community readers, make sure they ask pupils questions about what they are reading.
- Be aware that if you succeed, and improve reading levels, you may need to buy a bigger range of books, and more challenging ones for those in Year 6.
Evidence that it works?
The school holds regular reading tests for pupils using Hodder and Salford tests. These indicate that over the past three years the average reading age of all its pupils has increased by five and a third years (test results for pupils in Years 1-6 indicate an increase of 22 months in 200809, the same again in 200910, and 20 months in 201011). Mr Garside said the school had been particularly pleased to see that reading ages had not declined during the summer holidays, indicating that pupils were reading at home.
Approach: Creating a series of superheroes to promote reading
Leader: Graham Silvester, Year 5 teacher and art co-ordinator
Name: Felsted Primary School
Location: Felsted, Essex
Number of pupils: 251
Age range: 4-11
Intake: A slightly larger than average primary, with low numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals or with SEN, but high levels of mobility, particularly in Year 6
Ofsted overall rating: Good.