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Making a marked difference;Basic skills;Viewpoint;Opinion

American Express's reading programme in the Brighton community of Whitehawk (an education action zone) came about after I attended Business in the Community's "Seeing is Believing" day in1997. It involved taking people out from local businesses to see another side of Brighton and its communities. It left a deep impression.

The scheme kicked off in the winter of that year and was designed to help young children.

Working closely with Business in the Community, Brighton and Hove Council and the schools themselves, the programme attracted more than 30 American Express employees who volunteered to spend half-an-hour a week in local primary schools reading with young children. Two schools took part in the programme, St Mark's C of E Primary and Whitehawk Infants.

American Express has just run a poster campaign to recruit new volunteers and has received more than 50 enquires. This has enabled us to start in a new school, St John the Baptist RC Primary, this month.

Linking with the literacy hour, the benefits of the programme are two-fold. Children's skills and confidence are improved at a crucial age, and it motivates American Express employees.

A recent OFSTED inspection found that standards at St Mark's have improved significantly and the school has now been taken out of special measures. That is a credit to the headmaster and the staff, and it's nice to know that the volunteers in the American Express reading programme have contributed to this achievement.

Zoran Novakovic Head of American Express' European cardmember services

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