No evidence to back volunteers
May I point out that we do not conclude that all volunteer programmes are ineffective. Indeed, the schools in our study have continued to work with volunteers who, they find, make a stimulating and supportive contribution.
What we do argue is that our intervention, using tight experimental controls, failed to demonstrate greater gains in reading and spelling.
Furthermore, this finding was echoed by published studies we had found.
It is important to note that we were focusing upon one app-roach, using a variety of methods, with young children from socially disadvantaged communities. It is possiblethat other forms of intervention with other groupings will prove more successful.
Nevertheless, as we noted, if the goal of using volunteers is raised attainment, subjective opinions and unsupported claims can lead to misplaced perceptions as to a project's impact upon measurable attainment.
If volunteers can significantly improve reading performance in those most at risk of failure, we should be delighted. In this respect, we note the positive experiences of your correspondents. However, short-term gains can be misleading and are not always sustained.
We await the outcomes of systematic, controlled, longitudinal studies, therefore, with interest.
Professor Julian Elliott
University of Sunderland
School of Education