3 Rs package is special delivery

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Founder of maths and literacy scheme for children in care was inspired by seeing young son's delight at receiving his own parcel

It was just a plain brown envelope containing some crayons, drawings and perhaps a sticker, but to Owen Griffiths, then aged three, his monthly package from his bookclub was wildly exciting.

His enthusiasm became the inspiration for the Letterbox Club, a national scheme that posts parcels of books, games and stationery to more than 4,000 children in care across England.

Owen's mother, Rose Griffiths, is now a senior lecturer in education at Leicester University.

In 2002, more than 20 years after observing her son's glee, she was asked by Leicester's director of education to come up with a relatively cheap way of improving foster children's primary skills.

Ms Griffiths already had experience of the care system: she had adopted five foster children as well as having two home-grown sons - and she dreaded having to help them with dull homework.

Ms Griffiths said: "If you send something to the adult which is for the child to do, it can make them both feel resentful. You're tired, the child is tired."

By sending the parcels directly to the children, what could have been a chore became a treat.

Along with colleagues at Leicester University, Ms Griffiths has now overseen the evaluation of the two-year pilot of the Letterbox Club.

Children were tested after receiving a monthly parcel for six months. Of the 449 who took part in the scheme in 2008, 42 per cent were in the lowest attainment range before becoming members; afterwards the figure was 33 per cent. Fourteen per cent were in the highest attainment range before they joined and 21 per cent afterwards.

Typically, each parcel contains a personalised letter, two books - such as Horrid Henry for Years 3 and 4 or The BFG for Year 5 and 6 - pencils or drawing book, a maths game and sometimes a story CD.

The 2007-08 pilot was funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Last year, the scheme moved to a subscription service administered by the literacy charity Booktrust and local authorities.

The club works with publishers to source books, games and stationery and the parcels are returned to the local authority, which then sticks on the address labels and inserts a letter and local items.

Ms Griffiths said: "There are hundreds of people across the country who have contributed to getting it (the club) to the point where it works.

"They're working for the best interests of children who have sometimes not had a lot of fun in their life. It's not just helping with maths and reading; it's making life enjoyable."

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