Volunteer tutors who help socially disadvantaged children with reading make little or no impact, according to a study from the University of Sunderland's Time for Reading Project.
The research involved 31 trained volunteers working with four and five-year-olds. Most were in small groups, but there was some one-to-one work. Tutoring mostly occurred in quiet areas of the school on two half-days a week for six months.
The volunteers followed a manual focusing on developing children's phonological awareness and letter knowledge, enabling them to gain experience of a range of reading-related behaviours, thus heightening the enjoyment of stories.
In two assessments during the year of the project, and then again in the first year of the juniors, the tutored group showed insignificant differences in reading ability compared to the control group.
Researchrs concluded that if the project had taken place over a longer period, the results may have been more significant. They also suggested that the programme may have been too wide-ranging. More importantly, they found that helpers need a closer working relationship with teachers, who are role models in teaching methodology, and can provide guidance and feedback.
As the Government embarks on an expansion of classroom assistant numbers, the study shows the need to train, support and evaluate support workers. Schools need to ensure that guidance is available if the exercise is to succeed.
* Volunteer Support in the Primary Classroom: the Long-Term Impact of One Initiative upon Children's Reading Performance, by Julian Elliott, Jane Arthurs and Robert Williams, School of Education, University of Sunderland.