Backing schools who put reading first

WORD UP Children from Year 6 at Charles Dickens Juniors in Buckland are  among those taking part in the literacy campaign.  Picture: Sarah Standing (120398-4455)
WORD UP Children from Year 6 at Charles Dickens Juniors in Buckland are among those taking part in the literacy campaign. Picture: Sarah Standing (120398-4455)
Picture: Allan Hutchings

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This year The News is aiming to do Charles Dickens proud. Our campaign Read All About It, which is being launched on the day the world celebrates the bicentenary of the great Portsmouth-born novelist, is a celebration of the excellent work that goes on in our schools to improve reading.

Literacy is the key to everything. It unlocks all areas of the curriculum, gives children the confidence to communicate and unleashes their imaginations.

Schools across The News area know this all too well and are working flat out to boost the prospects of youngsters who aren’t born into households stocked with books and where there isn’t a culture of reading.

Research from the National Literacy Trust (NLT) – official backers of our campaign – shows that one in three children in the UK do not have a book of their own at home.

Another NLT survey reveals one in six children don’t read a single book in a month, while only one in 10 read more than 10 books.

This divide between the ‘reads’ and the ‘read-nots’ is worrying as statistics show reading frequency has a direct link to attainment.

In Portsmouth, Havant and Gosport, 11-year-olds lag behind the national averages in reading.

However, many of our schools are coming up with excellent initiatives to improve literacy.

Read All About It will be a platform for heads and teachers to share these bright ideas for the whole region to benefit.

And we promise you exciting events, book schemes, prizes and challenges run in partnership with libraries, authors and other organisations to create a real buzz around books.

Sandra Miller, head of Charles Dickens Juniors, where 53 per cent of children born into the poorest families are eligible for free school meals (FSM), says: ‘I know the value of reading. My parents were illiterate, they came to this country in the 1960s from Jamaica and they were both factory workers.

‘When I was just six years old they were relying on me to write letters and send money back home!

‘Growing up and seeing that really motivated me. Reading changed my life – and I want the same for all the children at this school.’

A Sutton Trust survey last year showed just 40 per cent of primary pupils on FSM reached the expected standard, compared with 81 per cent not on FSM.

In Portsmouth’s primary schools, 24.5 per cent of children are on FSM compared with 19.3 per cent nationally, and 10.9 per cent in Hampshire.

But June Kershaw, head of Woodcot Primary in Bridgemary, in the most deprived ward of Gosport, is returning the area’s best English results.

Last year 95 per cent of children left her school with expected levels in reading or better thanks to a diet of consistent teaching methods and a relentless promotion of books and reading at home.

She says: ‘Reading is absolutely crucial. If you can’t read, you can’t access the rest of the curriculum.

‘It’s the only way to get children who come to us at a disadvantage out of the poverty trap.’

At Portsdown Primary in Cosham, where 41 per cent pupils are eligible for FSM, 100 per cent of 11-year-olds are now on target to achieve the expected level of reading, with the help of a reading pledge that commits parents and teachers to read with their children every day.

At Warren Park Primary in Leigh Park, Hampshire’s most deprived area, a survey last year showed 19 per cent of pupils did not have a single book at home.

That was soon remedied with a free book giveaway, weekly bargain book sales and a lending library for parents to use.

By encouraging an exchange of ideas amongst our schools and sharing excellent practice that happens each day on our doorstep – our campaign hopes to celebrate a groundswell of improved literacy and enthusiasm for reading.

In the spirit of Dickens, who highlighted the lives of the poor and the destitute, we will do our very best to champion schools that are doing everything in their power to fight intellectual poverty.


LEARN to read – promoting the excellent work schools are doing to boost literacy

LOVE reading – creating a buzz around books and literature with the support of authors who make words come to life

LENDING and libraries – raising the profile of our fantastic FREE libraries


The News’s Read All About It campaign has been officially backed by the National Literacy Trust, a charity that campaigns to improve understanding of the vital importance of literacy.

Caroline Sence, programme manager of its young readers programme, says: ‘Read All About It is a fantastic campaign to get Portsmouth and Hampshire reading.

‘We’re delighted to be involved and hope it will go some way to address the one child in six that does not read a book in a month.

‘We’ve seen that community-based initiatives like this can have a massive impact, which is essential if we are to improve literacy in the UK.’

To find out more about the charity, which also conducts research into literacy and provides teaching resources online, visit


If anyone is going to win the hearts and minds of young people and give them the bug for reading, it’s an author.

Part of our campaign will be to attract the support of as many top authors as possible, who we hope will not only pledge their backing for what we are doing but offer books, visits and moral support.

And we’re getting off to a cracking start, with an exciting challenge for schoolchildren set by six award-winning children’s authors this Friday.

One of them, Blue Peter Book Award 2010 winner Ali Sparkes, says: ‘Many children’s authors, like me, visit schools all over the UK.

‘We meet children in very posh schools and children in very deprived schools. We see no difference.

‘The kids can be amazing, no matter what their background. And the ones that are the most amazing are, without fail, in schools where the teachers love reading and impart that love and joy and excitement to the children.

‘Books are doors into many worlds, broadening our understanding of the planet and its people and helping us to form ideas, values and ambitions.’

If you’re an author and would like to join our campaign, please e-mail Aline Nassif on or call (023) 9262 2131.


If your school would like to join the Read All About It campaign, here’s what you need to do:

1. Make a pledge to boost literacy and tell us what you will do to achieve that.

2. Commit to returning some hard data on reading at the end of the year that will hopefully show how effective your initiatives have been. This could be for the whole school or for a sub-set of children.

3. Please be prepared to nominate your ‘best reader’ at the end of the year for an end-of-campaign celebration.

4. Send details by e-mail to Aline Nassif on or by post to Aline Nassif, Editorial, The News, News Centre, Hilsea, Portsmouth PO2 9SX. If you have any queries, please call (023) 9262 2131.


Libraries are our most valuable resource in the battle to inspire a love of reading - and they’re FREE.

Sue Leach, Hampshire’s library outreach manager, says: ‘We are delighted to support the Read All About It campaign. Reading can change your life and your local libraries have something for everyone.’

David Percival, Portsmouth library services learning and engagement manager, adds: ‘The great news is that it’s still free to join and borrow books from your local library.

‘There are so many books that there really is something for everyone. What’s more, the wonderful library staff are there to help you find the book that’s just right for you, even if you don’t know where to begin.’