School plays pupil literacy catch-up

Reading programme helps youngsters make up for time lost during the pandemic

Friday, 11th February — By Anna Lamche

Fionnuala McGuinness 2

Fionnuala McGuinness

A SCHOOL in one of Islington’s most densely populated areas has kickstarted an intensive new reading programme to get their pupils’ literacy levels back up to scratch after the pandemic.

St Peter and St Paul’s School near Old Street recently opened a new library dedicated to boosting students’ reading, amid reports that over one in five 11-year-olds will go to secondary school without being able to read at the expected standard.

Fionnuala McGuinness, the school’s Key Stage 1 lead, said: “We found that during the pandemic some parents were able to do school work with their children while others had to work and couldn’t juggle both.”

At the school, September’s nursery intake of three- to four-year-olds had the highest number of non-verbal children ever, with six out of the 20 pupils unable to speak when they arrived.

“Early years especially missed out on all these key moments – we’ve had to start again,” Ms McGuinness said. “Now we’re trying to play catch up.”

Reading levels came into focus early this month as the government released its long-awaited “Levelling Up” white paper, which set “a new national mission” to ensure 90 per cent of primary school leavers reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030.

In 2019 – even before the pandemic struck – only 65 per cent of primary school students met all three standards.

To combat what has been described as a nationwide “literacy crisis,” the school has hired an extra catch-up teacher and teaching assistant and is also running guided reading sessions in their new library, along with focused phonics lessons.

The school has also recently invested in a “diversity library” with books that feature protagonists from different religious and racial backgrounds.

“Often a children’s book will be about a white child doing X or Y, but that doesn’t always reflect the children in our classes,” Ms McGuinness said. “We’re doing everything to make reading exciting.”

Fundraising for the library was organised by Maria Bennett, the school’s business ma­nager, who raised £4,000 during the pandem­ic to refurbish the space.

Since the library opened, volunteers have been coming in to read with the children. “We’re so grateful to our volunteers – and we’re always looking for more,” she said.

For Ms Bennett, improving reading levels is an urgent task. “We have this small window to get children prepared – if they reach secondary school [without being able to read], they may never be able to catch up,” Ms Bennett said.

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