We want your involvement, not just cash;Literacy

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Andrew Neil admits that life would have been easier for him and his staff if only Crossflats School in Bradford had a few more children from deprived families. With 11 per cent on free school meals, the 165-pupil first school was above the line where economic problems of poverty take a grip but below the threshold for extra government cash to deal with the educational consequences.

He watched the national test results for reading at level 3 fall below the average while the bureaucrats shrugged, albeit with sympathy.

Last year, however, the headteacher could take no more and he wrote to industry for help in piloting an accelerated reading programme. The plea struck a chord with the Bradford and Bingley Building Society, which was looking to support local community affairs.

Andrew Neil wanted pound;3,000 to equip the school library and pound;1,000 to train support staff. But more than that, he wanted volunteers to help with reading. "I had a meeting and gave a presentation," he said. "I told them I would like their involvement, not just their cash."

The scheme was simple and an extension of the Better Reading Partnership run in Bradford. It takes two days at a cost of pound;100 to train a "learning partner", who then sits for three 15-minute sessions a week helping a child read.

Teachers say it allows them to concentrate on the fundamentals of teaching and helping the whole class progress. But the real gains are for the children. In one 10-week session, average reading ages improved by six months.

The take-up of the partnership places was astonishing. At a presentation, 52 building society staff turned up and 37 volunteered.

Part of the success is undoubtedly due to the degree of support from the top. Society chairman Chris Rodriguez told the staff that if they wanted to be involved it was important to give "everything". Paid time off work was automatic. "We must not let the children down," he said.

Barbara Smith, head of the society's community links, says: "This was a toe in the water for us. We are not a Barclays Bank with a huge national programme, but after the experience at Crossflats, we would very much like to extend it."

Ian Nash

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