VOLUNTEERS are helping youngsters learn to read as part of the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign. For 10 weeks, people from all walks of life have come into schools in the Oxford Mail-backed project to read with children who need extra help to achieve higher levels of reading. Among the volunteers is Oxford Mail education reporter Fran Bardsley, who has been working with Sam Scott, seven, at St Ebbe's Primary School, Whitehouse Road, Grandpont. Fran has been recording their progress through a reading diary and today she gives her final thoughts.

THE last 10 weeks have been a journey of discovery for myself and Sam.

Sometimes the experience has been frustrating, other times unexpected, but almost always good fun.

During a summer when blue skies have been absent more often than not, the sun seems to have shone on almost all my sessions with Sam.

That means we have been able to find corners of the school grounds to sit down in with a good book.

Guided by the programme devised by the National Literacy Trust, we have been directed sometimes to read specific books, and sometimes a particular genre, but every week there has been an element of free choice.

And there have been clear favourites.

Sam already knew he liked adventure stories, and puzzle books.

When he was engaged in the story, he wanted to read more himself, only handing over to me when the words became advanced.

But prior to our non-fiction session he branded fact books as ‘boring’ and claimed poetry was ‘dull’.

I had to work hard to pick something to spark his interest.

For a non-fiction book about food, we found a Horrible Science book about the body, which provided suitably gruesome facts about eating to keep him entertained.

In terms of poetry, with the help of the school librarian we picked out a book of short, scary and funny verse featuring everything from bed bugs to vampires.

It is a source of pride for me that when we talked at the end about what sessions he liked, he chose poetry as one of them.

I am not a teacher or teaching assistant, just a volunteer, but it was amazing the amount I learned about how reading develops.

Difficult words like 'sleuth', the name of a character in one book, became recognisable with repetition.

During our last session, Sam was sad that he wouldn't be seeing me again.

He now reads “at least a little bit” every day.

If the same applies across the 100 volunteers taking part, that means we may be on the way to helping these children get the reading bug.


THE Oxfordshire Reading Campaign was launched in September last year by Oxfordshire County Council in an attempt to address poor test results in county schools.
The two-year scheme is run by the National Literacy Trust and backed by the Oxford Mail, and its targets include boosting reading skills for seven-year-olds, plus a volunteer reading scheme to help foster a love of reading.
Children involved work in small groups with trained teaching assistants on the Project X Code books, which are designed to improve phonics and comprehension skills, and also read one-to-one with volunteers.
In all, 54 schools across the county are taking part, and around 100 volunteers are working in schools, 30 of whom were recruited and trained through an Oxford Mail campaign. The rest volunteered through the school community.