In some parts of Norfolk 1 in 4 children leave school unable to read and write properly, statistics which are amongst the worst in the UK. Many of these children come from disadvantaged communities and are amongst the most vulnerable in society.
A child’s inability to read will have a profound effect on his or her future life opportunities.
Our charity was started in response to increasing concern across the county on illiteracy levels and its impact in the community.
Illiteracy can affect both physical and mental health, with children born in communities with the most serious literacy challenges having some of the lowest life expectancies in England. The National Literacy Trust has found that children who enjoy reading and writing are happier with their lives and are three times more likely to have good mental well-being.
The Norfolk Reading Project seeks to recruit and train volunteers across a wide range of ages and from all walks of life. Many of these are older people looking to support their wider community. This brings inter-generational advantages to both children and volunteers.
Training of the volunteers is in current reading practice including phonics. Poorer children from disadvantaged areas benefit most from being taught reading using phonics. Other approaches rely on child vocabulary and life experiences which are lacking in the most disadvantaged communities. Phonics helps to put children on a level playing field. This focus on phonics is particularly welcomed by teachers as it supports rather than conflicts with their class teaching.
We arrange and fund DBS checks and place the volunteers with local schools where there is an identified need. There is no charge to the schools or payment to volunteers.
We have a waiting list of state primary schools who have approached us for help. Currently we have more than 140 volunteers in over 40 local schools. We want to increase both the number of volunteers and schools we support. Money raised will help us do this.
In addition, we aim to provide more workshops and resources for outreach projects in the communities we operate in. We are also looking to reach more isolated areas where we currently have few or no volunteers, especially in more vulnerable communities such as Great Yarmouth, Thetford and areas of West Norfolk.
The majority of children we support with their reading are aged 4–7 years old (KS 1) but we are increasingly being asked to work with children aged 7–11 years old (KS 2). Many do not get the opportunity to read at home. This may be for a multitude of reasons.
We give these children the invaluable opportunity to sit with and read to a trained volunteer on a one-to-one basis. This has been proven to boost literacy levels.
Literacy is one of the most vital skills that we can give to our children. If you cannot read adequately you are excluded not only from life within school but also from employment opportunities and ultimately from being able to support your own children with reading. It is a truly inter-generational problem.