YOUNGSTERS who struggle with reading when they get to a secondary school are being given extra help thanks to a pioneering scheme.
First year students at King Richard School in Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, who have reading ages as low as that of a five-year-old are given daily English lessons that allow them to explore great literature at their own pace.
The boys and girls enjoy everything from Shakespeare to Michael Morpurgo in great depth – with the help of word games, discussions and fun activities.
It is perhaps no surprise the results are excellent, with almost every child returning to mainstream English lessons with the correct reading age within two years.
Tracey James, the country’s only school-based basic skills practitioner trained to work with adults, is leading the programme at King Richard which has joined the News literacy campaign Read All About It.
She said: ‘We’ve taken the English curriculum, unpicked it and embedded it in literacy.
‘Just because students come to us with low literacy doesn’t mean they should be excluded from learning Shakespeare.
‘We have more freedom than the other classroom teachers. It’s a huge privilege.
‘Recently, for example, at the end of Private Peaceful (by Michael Morpurgo) everyone was upset, but rather than moving straight on to the next text, we took up two lessons discussing the students’ emotions and inviting them to create a new ending.
‘Our students are developing reading for pleasure.’
Mrs James knows the importance of reading. She has in the past worked with youth offenders who had mostly left school with poor literacy skills.
She said: ‘We know where kids will end up if literacy is not addressed – they can’t access the rest of the curriculum and they start developing behavioural issues.’
There are 28 youngsters who attend Mrs James’ hour-long sessions which are opened up to parents once a month.
Jordan Murray, 12, has moved up from level 3 (reading age of a nine-year-old) to level 4 (reading age of a 12-year-old), in a year.
He said: ‘These lessons have given me a love of books and I’m reading fluently now.
‘I actually want to read more books and I read at home – I’ve never experienced that before.
‘In primary school I had one-to-one help but the adults did all the work for me, which didn’t help.
‘Now if I get something wrong I’m encouraged to have another go.’
Jordan’s mum Tina, 46, said: ‘I was astonished when I heard him read. At his last school he could barely piece words together – I could see he was so far behind.
‘I’m incredibly proud of how well he’s done, and I’m relieved. It’s lovely to see him enjoying reading.’
Charlie Hicks, 12, who made even greater progress in that time – from level 2 (reading age of a seven-year-old) to level 4, added: ‘Private Peaceful was really good.
‘We had discussions about the war and how we felt about the ending – I wasn’t happy with it at all. I found it very sad.’
n To join the campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org