Get Northants Reading campaign is launched

Wollaston Primary School Beanstalk reading helper Philippa Ayears with pupils Jade McLennan, 10 and Cameron Watt, 11
Wollaston Primary School Beanstalk reading helper Philippa Ayears with pupils Jade McLennan, 10 and Cameron Watt, 11

Almost 1,300 11-year-olds in Northamptonshire last year left primary school having failed to reach the required standard in reading tests.

This figure equates to one in six youngsters (or 17 per cent) who failed to reach ‘level four’ in Key Stage 2, performing less well than youngsters in areas such as Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool.

This is one key reason why today the Northamptonshire Telegraph has teamed up with national literacy charity Beanstalk to launch a new campaign for more reading volunteers to provide vital help in local schools.

Beanstalk aims to help support children’s reading by training volunteers and sending them into primary schools to talk, read and play with youngsters.

Christine Thomas, Beanstalk’s volunteer services manager for Northamptonshire, said: “Literacy is a major problem affecting many thousands of children and adults, often with catastrophic consequences.

“Last July, 1,300 children left primary school in Northamptonshire unable to read to the required standard.

“We think this is an avoidable tragedy and that’s why we are working with the Northamptonshire Telegraph to ‘Get Northamptonshire Reading.’

“The aim of the campaign is to help us support more local children who are struggling with their reading to give them the vital literacy skills they need to be successful in life.

“Our reading helpers go into a local primary school twice a week for a whole year to provide one-to-one literacy support to three children for half an hour each.

“This regular, individual support helps build their literacy skills, self-confidence and self esteem – a proven, effective early intervention model.”

Philippa Ayears, 44, was introduced to Beanstalk through her employer Scott Bader. Now she is a reading helper at Wollaston Primary School.

She said: “I had a young lady a couple of years ago who hated reading. She’d rather play games, so I found a quiz book that we looked at together.

“That way she was having fun, but was reading.

“We went from quiz books to plays and then poetry so it wasn’t just looking at the books they’ve got to read because they are part of the syllabus, but also exploring other types of books and that improved her interest in reading.

“She really got into poetry and then from poetry we got into novels. By the end of the year she was enjoying the sessions and was a pleasure to help.”

Volunteer Jan Chacksfield, 66, helps at Croyland Primary School, Wellingborough.

She said: “I think some of the reasons I did this were selfish. Retirement was looming and I didn’t want to feel I was on the scrap heap, I wanted to contribute something.

“Each child is different and it is challenging obviously when they can’t read for some reason. You have to be adaptable.”

Why help with reading is vital:

As specialist reading teacher at Croyland Primary School, Wellingborough, Niki Shorthose knows how important it is to support pupils with literacy.

The school welcomes Beanstalk volunteers as well as offering its own in-house support.

It has cultivated a strong working relationship with parents, because plenty of talking at home is all important, according to Niki.

She said: “If a child has poor aural language, it can make it difficult for them to read. One thing parents can do is talk to their children from birth, that will have a massively positive impact. Reading will help children access the rest of the curriculum.”

More about Beanstalk:

Beanstalk is a national literacy charity which recruits, vets, trains and supports volunteers to work in primary schools with children who have fallen behind with their reading. Their vision is a nation of confident children who can read and grow up to lead successful lives.

Volunteers read, play and talk with children.

The Northamptonshire branch of Beanstalk currently works in 66 schools across the county, where 127 reading helpers support 381 children.

How to get involved:

We are looking to double the number of Beanstalk volunteers in the next five years.

Volunteer readers must be fluent in English and competent readers. They must pass some standard checking procedures for people working with children.

Volunteers must be able to spare three hours per week, plus travel time. They must be able to visit a local school twice a week for 90 minutes per visit during term-time for a whole year.

Those offering their time as a reading helper should be willing to commit for at least a year.

Those who apply to be reader volunteers are given full support and training to work with local primary school children aged six to 11.

To volunteer, log on to the website or ring 0845 4500338 or 01604 720969.

To donate, text NRTH40 £5 to 70070, to contribute £5 to Beanstalk and make a difference today or, to donate online, log on to