Read all about it as star pupils graduate

Herald Series: Thomas Bryant, of West Kidlington School Thomas Bryant, of West Kidlington School

Two years ago a campaign was launched to improve children's reading ability in the county. Sophie Scott looks at its success.

AT the beginning of September 2012, primary schools across the county embarked on a new programme to improve children’s reading ability.

Now, at the end of its planned two-year run, children who have taken part in the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign have graduated from the scheme.

Over the past 24 months, almost 1,200 pupils have participated in the campaign – which is backed by the Oxford Mail, run by the National Literacy Trust, and funded by Oxfordshire County Council, which initially put up £600,000.

Ceremonies for 555 pupils took place across county schools over the last week, including one at William Fletcher Primary School in Yarnton on Wednesday in which 84 children from four schools attended.

Herald Series:

  • West Kidlington Primary School pupils Theo Jones, Callum Cheung and Freya Grossman behind a cutout of characters from Project X Code books

They heard from two authors, Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler, of the Project X Code books -– the stories children on the programme used – and created their own adventure for the day. On Wednesday this included a tale aboard a pirate ship and a battle with Sidney the Shark.

Children spoke about what books they now loved to read, including novels by Roald Dahl, David Walliams and CS Lewis.

Thomas Bryant, seven, a Year 2 pupil at West Kidlington Primary, said he couldn’t wait to read over the summer – and was going to start tackling bigger books.

He said: “When I finished the programme I cried because I really loved it. I did it for nearly a year.

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“I now read all the time at bedtime and sometimes I even do it in the middle of the day.

“I didn’t really read much before. But I really like it now.”

Herald Series: reading campaign logo 480 pix

The Reading Campaign came after the revelation that seven-year-olds in Oxford city performed worse than anywhere else in the UK at basic literacy and numeracy.

And across the county, children failed to match their peers across the country.

In the past two years, 63 schools have taken part in the scheme. Figures show those achieving good levels of progress between the ages of seven and 11 rose from 85 to 90 per cent in the most recent year.

In 55 per cent of schools on the scheme, more than 80.8 per cent of children achieved a Level 2b – the average – or above in Key Stage 1 during the first year.

Last year children were making on average 13 months’ progress in their reading age, after only four months taking part in Project X Code. Some schools saw 19-plus months progress in their pupils.

By September 2013, 95.4 per cent of children involved said they liked reading more than before.

Herald Series:

  • Anaya Mott

Eight-year-old Anaya Mott, who is in Year 3 at West Kidlington Primary School, said: “My favourite character is Croco-Bite [from Project X Code]. I read now when I am bored at home in the daytime. I read more now than I did when I started. I am going to read all summer.”

Classmate Callum Cheung, also eight, said his favourite book is Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot: “I really love turtles and that has a turtle in it.”

More than 200 volunteers were trained to help in about 50 schools, on a one-to-one basis, twice a week to help foster a love of books.

Anna Hallmark, volunteer co-ordinator at Faringdon Infant School, said the school is planning to make it a permanent fixture in how they support children. She said: “We have been successfully running the volunteering strand of the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign in our school since April 2013.

“We were able to recruit parents of children from our school as volunteers, and they have all been so enthusiastic and committed to the programme and all it entails.

“We identified specific children in Year 1 to take part and the programme has proven to be a brilliant learning experience for them as well as a mutually beneficial experience for the volunteers.

“The children’s confidence with particular skills for reading has increased significantly over the sessions; their ‘book talk’ has developed and, with this, they know more about their book likes and dislikes and can say why.

“We plan to continue the programme as a permanent provision within our school for our children and their literacy learning.”

Schools project manager Sam Pope said: “Comments have been extremely positive to date, with some parents telling us that their children, having never shown any interest in reading now head through toy shops to get to book departments, and that, after playing football, reading is now their top choice to relax.

“Increase in ability has also been noted, with children who have not previously been confident readers now at least at an average or above-average level.

“A show of nearly 86 hands at last week’s celebration showed that the children now see themselves as readers and love reading.”

Councillor Melinda Tilley, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Families, said: “The Oxfordshire Reading Campaign has been widely welcomed and enthusiastically supported by many local schools.

“It has been fantastic to see the progress being made by the children, not only to improve their reading levels but also giving them greater confidence in speaking, writing, making choices and general enjoyment of books, stories and wider school activities.

“Thanks must go to the school heads and the teachers, teaching assistants and volunteers who have been involved in this work to raise standards. We will see the fruits of this in future years in the county’s overall examination results and also with new methods and culture having established themselves in our schools.”

It may be the end of the planned two-year programme, but it has already fostered a change in attitudes across schools to reading and one hopes that will continue for many years to come.

The authors' view

Herald Series:

  • Jan Burchett at William Fletcher Primary School
  • Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler have been working on Project X Code books for a number of years, helping shape the stories children in Oxfordshire now love to read.

They explain why the books aid less-confident readers and help them progress.

Mrs Vogler said: “The imagery that we use in the books really does help them. It is very clear and like CGI, which children like.”

She added: “We want children to want to pick the books up. That is so important.”

Mrs Burchett added: “The stories are very exciting and run through the books. The children are able to be involved in the stories and the children identify with at least one of the characters.

“And the imagery is like a computer game which they can associate with. It’s not like the old books we all remember from school.”

HOW THE CAMPAIGN STARTED

  • Nov 2010: Key Stage 1 results for Oxford schools are worst in country, with almost a quarter failing to reach expected levels in reading
  • Feb 2011: Oxfordshire County Council plans an inquiry into the results
  • May 2011: Cabinet member for schools’ improvement, Michael Waine, stands down. Melinda Tilley appointed to succeed him
  • Nov 2011: Six-point improvement plan launched
  • May 2012: Ian Hudspeth, then the new county council leader, told to make improving education standards a priority by Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron
  • July 2012: Campaign to improve reading standards at primary schools launched
  • Sep 2012: Get Oxfordshire Reading plans revealed

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