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A right pair of pedigree chums

Pupils at a Leicestershire school are getting some help with reading thanks to links with a local employer. For an hour every day staff from Pedigree Masterfoods in Melton Mowbray come into The Grove primary school to act as reading partners to the children.

The pilot scheme has been running for a term, and from September the pet food firm hopes to make it more permanent by enlisting more teams of volunteers from its 1,200 workforce.

Nearly half The Grove's 310 pupils are on the special needs register. The school has an army of ancillary staff but still struggles to get enough parents to help with reading support. The firm's involvement has been a godsend, says Adrienne Holland, headteacher at The Grove.

"The parents who are interested and committed tend to work so they can't come in," she says. "We have a very high level of social deprivation - the highest in Leicestershire. And so for our children it's especially important to have that contact with adults. And they just love it.

"They gain beyond measure. They can get 15 minutes of one-to-one where they feel special."

Pedigree Masterfoods is a big employer in Melton Mowbray. It approached Leicester's Educaion Business Partnership about how to work with schools. Much of the success of the education business links comes from the new partnership arrangements. Leicestershire has a single Education Business Company or "one-stop shop" where schools and colleges can find suitable link partners to help with basic skills, gain curriculum support, find work experience opportunities and develop management skills.

As well as the reading scheme, Pedigree also helps to promote the school's toy library. And the school's relationship with the firm is likely to reap other benefits.

"I feel that now we could ring them and say, 'We have this project - please give us some advice'," says the head.

"This is a way forward - it makes people more aware of primary education. So many links are forged with secondary education and industry, but primary schools miss out."

Catherine Bloxham, a nine-year-old pupil, says she has enjoyed having a new reading partner. "My favourite bit was when I did comprehensions with her," she says. "She didn't ask us the questions that were in the book. She asked us questions that were fun to answer. She talks to me about her as well - I like that."

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