The Ablaze Reading Buddy programme pairs business volunteers with local primary school pupils and aims to encourage primary pupils to read more, read better and be more confident in their ability. Reading Buddy volunteers provide under-performing pupils with extra reading practice in one-to-one reading sessions.
At St Teresa’s we read for half an hour every week during term time. The school has an excellent new library, so the Reading Buddies and pupils have a varied array of books (with varying difficulty) to choose from and a great place to read.
St Teresa’s really make us feel welcome. Sam Land, the Head Teacher, always introduces herself to the Reading Buddies when we start in a new academic year. We have a tour of the school and make sure we are acquainted with the school safeguarding and emergency policies before we start – many of our Airbus Reading Buddies are interns who are only with us for a year, so it is important that we go through a school induction procedure.
The pupils that take part really benefit from having a Reading Buddy. They get a dedicated period of one-to-one reading every week and get to interact with an adult other than their teachers or family members. The sessions really help to develop the pupils’ spoken language, especially for children who speak English as an additional language. Through improving their reading skills, pupils discover new words and meanings; discover new styles of writing that help with their own story writing; discover new topics and help fuel curiosity; and most of all have fun!
There are also plenty of benefits for the Reading Buddy volunteers. Volunteers love the opportunity to “give something back” and really enjoy seeing the pupils improve their reading. Volunteers also comment that they get to learn and utilise their skills in a different environment; they also get to meet with colleagues they might not work with day to day, thereby increasing their network.
“The benefits of the Reading Buddy Scheme are many. You can see improvements in children’s reading skills in texts. The children’s vocabulary is improved by the process. The children’s joy of reading is also improved. Then you have things like self-esteem, especially knowing that an adult is looking forward to hearing them read. The initiative also develops the children’s social skills – as well as reading, the children also talk to their reading buddy about their lives” Samantha Land, Head Teacher at St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School
Five years ago, I became the Business Coordinator for the school. This means that I recruit volunteers (with plenty of support from Ablaze), coordinate the volunteers and liaise between the school and the volunteers. As the main point of contact for Ablaze, I also feedback any issues or concerns to the Ablaze Primary Partnerships Manager and attend twice yearly review meetings at the school.
For me, the key to making the scheme work is through communication and flexibility. At the beginning of the academic year we receive guidelines on where we can concentrate our efforts to achieve the best for the pupil, be it vocabulary development, comprehension or fluency. Alison Knight, the St Teresa’s Reading Co-Ordinator, and I have weekly communication, highlighting any difficulties, successes and progress.
“Each year, the Reading Buddies are matched with one particular child who they will work with for the year and together they select books to share from the library. This allows the pair to build a trusting relationship over time and allows continuity with their reading. This has had a significant impact on the children’s confidence as well as developing their reading skills. The quality conversations are instrumental in helping to develop the children’s language skills and their knowledge of the world around them. It has been particularly beneficial for some of our more vulnerable children to have contact with such positive role-models who enthusiastically share their own love of reading.” Alison Knight, Reading Recovery Teacher at St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School
Obviously, we have our “day jobs” and we cannot always attend every week, therefore as School Coordinator I try and give as much notice as possible of availability prior to the Wednesday sessions. We have to remain flexible as sometimes we have to pull out at the last minute or the child may not be available.
Unfortunately, my work schedule has changed so that I wouldn’t be able to attend Reading Buddies this year, so I applied to become a Community Governor for the school. This is a cherished position that I will treat with the dedication and respect that it deserves. My fellow Governors have been very welcoming and I am being mentored and trained through my initial period. But my reading skills have not gone to waste, you should see how many school policies we have to review!