Sunday, 29 June 2014

Patron of Reading

Here is a copy of an article I wrote about the Patron of Reading scheme which is currently gathering momentum in schools across the United Kingdom.


Author visits to schools can often be one of the highlights of the academic year, enjoyed by children, staff and writers alike. However, after the initial ‘high’, the enthusiasm and energy created by the visit can sometimes be lost as the reality and pressure of the school timetable takes over.

Tim Redgrave, the headteacher at Ysgol Esgob Morgan in North Wales, has come up with a simple yet effective idea to help ensure that momentum created by author visits is maintained, by encouraging schools to have a Patron of Reading. A Patron of Reading is an author (or possibly a poet, illustrator, scriptwriter or storyteller) with whom a school forms a long term attachment. The author and the school work closely together to promote reading for pleasure over a period of three years and create a real reading ‘buzz’ in the school.

The idea originally came about when Tim took one of his classes to St Asaph Library in Denbighshire to hear author Helena Pielichaty give a talk as part of Denbighshire Libraries Book Week. He quickly realised what a big impact the visit had made on his pupils and started to think about how he could make the most of the opportunity created. He emailed Helena and they spent a lot of time sharing ideas about how to promote a love of reading in schools. Eventually the ideas turned into the Patron of Reading scheme.

Helena has now held her role for two years and said "I am thoroughly enjoying being Patron of Reading at Ysgol Esgob Morgan. The buzz the role has generated is wonderful; there is no doubt that this school is a school that reads for pleasure – the evidence is everywhere. When I visit, children can’t wait to tell me about the books they are reading; there are folders full of reviews, innovative displays and plays being rehearsed - not to mention the frequent amount of blogging going on. It’s all so inspiring. I’ve benefitted enormously, too. The role has enabled me to have a unique relationship with the staff and children that a one-off visit can’t provide. I am thrilled when I see a suggestion that I’ve made has been put into practise by the teachers and ecstatic when I’m told that a pupil has gone from being a reluctant reader to a keen one because of me. I love reading books the children and staff have recommended to me, too. So far I’ve discovered Malorie Blackman’s Cloud Busting, Gill Lewis’s Sky Hawk and next is David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny. Ofsted talk a lot about ‘enrichment’ and I think this idea provides that in spades. I can’t wait for my next visit to the school."

The idea has quickly spread across the country and there are now at least thirty Patrons already in place, with many more ready to take up their role in September. Current Patrons include John Dougherty, Nicola Morgan, Tom Palmer, Cathy McPhail, Gillian Cross, Julia Jarman and Sita Brahmachari. There are also several established writers available who are keen to get involved in the idea (see the website for the latest list, as it is regularly updated).

The role of the Patron varies widely from school to school, depending on where the school is currently at in terms of promoting reading for pleasure and what they feel the next step to be, but there are some key ideas which have been adopted by most of the partnerships. One of the main roles of the Patron is to visit the school at least once per year during their tenure, but in many cases it is more often. This aspect of the partnership is organised and paid for just like any other author visit. Patrons then make regular contact with their schools either by Skype, email or newsletter, providing updates on the latest books they are writing, what they are reading, etc. Some Patrons, such as Helena Pielichaty, have also contributed a foreword to their school’s Literacy policy and scheme of work.

The role of the school also varies widely but generally includes promoting the scheme in newsletters, online and to the local press, having a display in the school showing the Patron and their work and putting a link to the Patron’s website on the school website.

Several partnerships have also set up successful blogs which contain contributions not only from the Patron, but also from the staff, the pupils and their parents. Pupils enjoy the opportunity to share what they are reading and exchange ideas for recommended books with their Patron. As with any drive to promote reading for pleasure, getting the support of the parents is crucial and this has been done by inviting them to special assemblies, book signings, after-school meetings, etc. Some schools have also sent home a flyer, jointly written by the school and the Patron, introducing the scheme and providing some tips on how parents can support and nurture their children’s passion for reading.

There have also been exchanges of ideas and information between Patrons, teachers and librarians regarding new developments in reading and books. Writers and school staff regularly share their successful ideas on the Patron of Reading blog, allowing other partnerships to quickly adopt them.

If a school is considering getting themselves a Patron, it is important that they think carefully about which author to approach. Although it is not always possible, it should ideally be one with whom there is already some kind of connection. For example, Molly Naylor, the Patron at City Academy Norwich, spent two or three years working regularly in the feeder primary schools and has already developed a good relationship with many of the students. They already know much of her work and her methods. As already mentioned, there is an up-to date list of potential authors available on the Patron of Reading website although many schools have decided to approach an author directly, usually with good success.

Although the idea is spreading rapidly across the country, it is still relatively new. Most Patrons are only in their first term or haven’t yet started, so it is difficult to assess the impact that the idea has had. However, the early signs are positive. Tim Redgrave, who came up with the original idea and is involved in the most established partnership, explained “Having a Patron of Reading has made a significant difference to all of our children and their approach to reading for pleasure. It has inspired all of them to visit libraries, explore a range of books and authors and is changing their lives - literally! We have a school full of confident readers and it doesn't take a genius to know how this is improving standards across the board at our school.”

Tim’s view is backed up by the school’s latest inspection report from April 2013 which states ‘‘School leaders have focused well on implementing a range of national and local priorities, including improving pupils’ literacy skills. For example, the school has developed a ‘Patron of Reading’ initiative. As a result of this programme, pupils engage in purposeful reading and writing experiences with a professional author. This has improved pupils’ interest and standards in reading.’

Joe Craig, the Patron at Parkside Federation Academies, agreed and said "The Patron of Reading scheme is such a fantastic opportunity and a huge boost for reading and writing. Authors can connect with schools, schools can connect with authors. It’s the best way for me to share my passion for stories. The joys of reading and writing can be infectious and when an author and a school build the kind of relationship that the Patron of Reading scheme allows, that buzz can become a lifetime habit of reading for pleasure. Now what could be more fun, or more valuable, than that?"

The Patron at the school where I currently work, John Dougherty, has now been in his role for about six months. After a couple of phone calls and several emails, we formulated a rough idea of how we wanted the idea to work. John’s first contact with the pupils and staff of the school was via an email, in which he explained a little bit about himself and what he hoped the role of the Patron might entail.

A few weeks later John visited the school for the first time. By this stage, the majority of the children were familiar with at least one of his books (we had asked the local library to get in extra copies) and were very excited about the visit. During his visit he was able to meet with every class and provided the children with a sneak preview of his new book. He also led an assembly at the end of the day to which parents were invited. John took this opportunity to talk in a very passionate way about the value of reading for pleasure and how crucial the role of the parents can be in this. The day finished with an extremely successful book signing. A member of staff from the local library was also invited, displaying some of the new books available and encouraging pupils and parents to join up.

John followed up his visit with a letter to each class the following week and then continued to keep in touch via a school/Patron blog, which has seen lots of discussion about favourite books. Just before the summer holiday, John recorded a five minute video for the pupils at his local library, encouraging them to get involved with the Summer Reading Challenge and sharing some of the books that he would be reading over the summer. Our focus for the coming year will be to continue to promote the role of the parents in reading and try to come up with some simple, fun ideas to encourage more reluctant readers.

It will be fascinating to see how this idea grows and develops over the next couple of years. Hopefully, the passion and commitment of the early schools and Patrons involved can be maintained on a wider scale, and allow Patrons of Reading to really boost the profile of reading for pleasure in schools all around the country.


Twitter: @patronofreading

Facebook page- Patron of Reading

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