Helping out

7th December 2007 at 00:00
A charity is improving children's reading skills and confidence, and its popularity is soaring. Susan Young reports.It is loved by primary children and their teachers, has helped almost 100,000 pupils with their reading, and celebrates its 35th birthday next year. Research, published this week, shows that schools believe more than nine out of 10 pupils visited by Volunteer Reading Help, the charity, are better readers and more confident as a result, with more than eight out of 10 also behaving better. The service is rated so highly in schools that most would like more of its volunteers in their classrooms.

Volunteer Reading Help, founded in 1973, has 2,000 adults on its books, who visit three named children, aged 6-11, in a local school for two half-hour sessions each week over a year.

The volunteer is there to help the children with reading - but the effect of having the same adult coming in regularly for a year has far-reaching effects on confidence, behaviour and self-confidence.

Gill Astarita, chief executive of the charity, says: "The children adore it. It's a win-win situation. The schools get a lot from it and it helps to build up some of their lower achievers. The pupils, who are having problems for whatever reason, benefit hugely. And the volunteers love it."

The volunteers receive 12 hours' training and are supplied with the charity's reading pack, which includes games and other reading material. The children choose what is used during the sessions.

"The children we work with often have very little parental or family involvement and haven't had an adult taking a special interest in them. Consistency is important - if the volunteers can't sign up for the whole academic year we won't take them," says Gill.

Teachers questioned for a survey into the service this year were overwhelmingly positive about its effects. "All the children love their helpers. There is a great relationship between them. One child asked why they couldn't come every day," says one.

What the research says

97 per cent of children improved their reading.

97 per cent of children improved their attitude to reading.

98 per cent of children improved their confidence in reading.

98 per cent of children improved in achievement overall.

95 per cent of children improved in general confidence.

94 per cent of children improved in self-esteem.

91 per cent of children improved their general attitude.

81 per cent of children improved their behaviour.

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