Lloyd's moves into a different market

13th June 1997 at 01:00
SWANLEA School in Whitechapel, East London, appreciates the reading help it receives from insurance house Bowring and the Lloyd's of London insurance market. Out of 200 pupils in its Year Seven, 40 have a reading age two years behind their natural age. For many of the 11-year-olds English is not their first language: 168 Year Seven pupils are Bangladeshi.

In January 1995, Lloyd's first became involved. Volunteers from Bowring were already at the school, which opened five year ago, but more help was needed.

"I advertised in an internal Lloyd's magazine but we received so many volunteers that the school couldn't cope," says Sharon Merriman, who co-ordinates reading schemes at Swanlea and four other primary and three secondary schools in Tower Hamlets.

At Swanlea, all the pupils involved in the Lloyd's reading scheme receive a special sheet. At the top it says: "I'm a Lloyd's reader". Every week the pupil makes notes about the book read and what they liked about it. There is space on the sheet to note difficult words and to record the child's progress.

The pupils are proud of their sheets and keen to write on them. They show they are part of a special reading club.

Swanlea's co-ordinator and English teacher, David McIlroy, encourages his students. On the days when Lloyd's and Bowring employees are coming he rushes down to the restaurant to ensure the pupils hurry their lunch and get the maximum practice possible.

"We don't give the children with the lowest reading scores to the volunteers because they would not be able to cope," he says. "But a lot of pupils arrive with scores below the national average and they need extra help."

Some of the Lloyd's volunteers take on two children while others concentrate on one. If they have two, one pupil reads quietly while the other reads to the helper. If there are any children without a reading friend, David McIlroy steps in.

Farzana Noor, whose first two languages are Bengali and French, is reading to Sarah Edwards, who works in the international department at Lloyd's. First Sarah asks her to explain the story, The Magic Finger, by Roald Dahl.

"It is about a little girl who uses her magic finger to turn everyone into birds because they had been shooting them," she explains. Sarah smiles encouragingly.

The pupils seem shy with the volunteers at first, but soon they begin to relax in each other's company.

Sarah says: "I have been doing it for two years and I really enjoy it. I have noticed how their reading gets better as their confidence improves. At first they are shy about reading with expression, but it is great when you are reading a play and we can each take on a character. For me to miss a reading practice it would have to be exceptional circumstances."

Lloyd's would relish the opportunity to introduce a way of formally evaluating the scheme but so far that has proved impossible.

Sharon Merriman says: "Last term we asked teachers to fill out a reading questionnaire marking the effectiveness of the scheme. But the teachers already have enough bureaucracy to deal with, we don't want to impose any more. "

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