Memorandum submitted by Volunteer Reading
VRH welcomes the Government's commitment
to improving the educational attainment of children in care and
to narrow the gaps in outcomes with other children, as reflected
in the new performance management framework agreed as part of
the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 process and reiterated
in the Children's Plan.
Given that children in care attain
significantly lower levels of reading and writing, it is vital
that this vulnerable group are given extra support in this area.
Volunteers can play a particular role in improving outcomes for
children in care by improving literacy skills but also acting
as an independent mentor, who can help them to develop and improve
their self-esteem and confidence.
VRH believes that corporate parents
and carers should also be supported in helping looked-after children
with their literacy development.
VRH undertakes significant work and
has a successful track record of working with looked after children
and is keen to support and participate in any new Government initiatives
designed to improve their life chances.
1. Volunteer Reading Help (VRH) is a national
charity with almost 2,000 trained volunteers supporting 5,000
children each week in primary schools in England. We recruit and
train volunteers to work on a one-to-one basis with disadvantaged
and looked after children aged 6-11. Many struggle with reading,
lack confidence and self esteem and may have difficult home circumstances.
Our trained volunteers act as one-to-one mentors and encourage
children to develop their reading and learning skills through
their two half an hour sessions with three children twice weekly
and commit to working with each child for the whole school year.
2. The Care Matters Green Paper and subsequent
White Paper showed that children in care attain significantly
lower levels of reading and writing than other children and recommended
that children in care should be particularly targeted in recruitment
programmes for literacy, language and numeracy courses. VRH have
been delivering personalised learning for over 30 years through
our network of volunteers, and believe this kind of support is
particularly vital for vulnerable groups such as children in care.
3. Whilst teachers clearly have a key role
to play in supporting looked-after children, the role volunteers
can play in supporting achievement and social and emotional development
should not be underestimated. VRH was encouraged that the Care
Matters White Paper saw an explicit role for local authorities
to give careful consideration to the contribution of local and
national voluntary organisations.
4. VRH undertakes significant work with
looked after children and is keen to support and participate in
any new Government initiatives designed to improve their life
chances. VRH works with looked after children in several local
authorities across the country and is keen to expand its network
of literacy support to ensure that the funding for looked after
children follows them throughout the system.
5. Time for Children is a project run by
VRH with the specific aim of improving the literacy skills and
self-esteem of children in care through one-to-one reading support.
The project has operated for almost three years and includes comprehensive
training for all volunteers, including specific modules on Children
in Public Care. We are recruiting a national project manager to
enable us to develop this work across all of our locations. We
currently provide the service in the North West, parts of the
Midlands and Kent.
6. Whilst important for all children, personalisation
is particularly important for the learning and development of
looked-after children. Fully trained adult volunteers provide
regular reading support for children all year round for those
in residential units, in foster homes and during term-times at
schools. This flexibility ensures there is continuity in the relationship
between the child and the volunteer which is vital in the case
of looked-after children. Volunteers are drawn from wide backgrounds
and wherever possible matched to the children they will be working
with. The aim is for the volunteer to become a trusted role model
and friend, as well improving educational attainment through increased
self-confidence, reading and social skills.
7. In order to further tailor the service
to the needs of individual children, VRH developed the innovative
idea of working with young people who were having difficulty being
reintegrated into school. Having not established any peer friendships,
children in this situation were prone to leaving school during
free periods and not returning. Before working with the child
at school, the volunteer would meet and build up a relationship
with the child at home. The volunteer's session would then fill
up the free period thus keeping the child at school.
Reach Out and Read
8. VRH has recently developed a training
programme called Reach Out and Read (ROAR), for parents and others
to learn how to support children with their reading from an early
age. The programme has already been undertaken successfully with
Sure Start Leeds, and we intend that the programme will ensure
that parents and those who wish to support children's literacy
skills have all the advice, assistance and guidance that they
need. There is significant demand for this service. Programmes
such as ROAR might also be used to ensure corporate parents and
carers are able to support children in care with reading, particularly
given this vulnerable group are particularly affected by poor