When children struggle with reading

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Thursday 5th January 2012

“If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be?” That was one of the questions the writer and academic Norman Geras asked me in a profile for his excellent Norm’s Blog a few months back. Every Friday he puts interviewees on the spot by asking them to answer a pithy list of questions, from their favourite novels to their most treasured possessions.

I thought for a moment and in a flash the answer to the policy change conundrum popped into my head. “I’d increase spending massively on one-to-one reading support for early years and primary school aged children who need it,” I said.

And I meant it. Reading is such a fundamental part of life – from the day you read your first Biff and Chip book by yourself to the moment you discover an amazing new author. I’ve got a stack of books on the go right now, from the new Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford to You Before Me by Jojo Moyes, which I’ll be reviewing on the blog tomorrow.

One of the bits of journalism that most sticks in my mind was a piece I wrote about the Every Child a Reader project a couple of years back. A programme for five and six year olds (year 1 at primary school) who were struggling with reading, it gave them one to one lessons for half an hour at school each day with highly trained reading recovery teachers.

It was a brilliant idea and had spectacular results. The children progressed leaps and bounds, their confidence and self-esteem blossomed and they made four times the normal rate of progress in reading. In fact most of them caught up with the other children in their class.

Sadly, the Every Child a Reader programme funding only ran for three years and came to an end in 2011. There are other initiatives around, like the Evening Standard’s Get London Reading campaign, which is giving more than 1,000 schoolchildren who can’t read properly help from special mentors. But we definitely need many more projects like it.

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