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An evaluation of The Better Reading Partnership Programme, A community literacy initiative of Tolka Area Partnership

Conducted by Hannah Grene (BA, LLM) & Thrse McPhillips (BSocSci, MEd, PhD) Barncat Consulting December 2010

Contact: Hannah Grene Barncat Consulting www.barncat.ie 087 7913468

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Introduction The Better Reading Partnership was launched as a pilot by the Tolka Area Partnership in February 2008. The programme is designed to improve the reading ability of children in local schools, primarily those schools serving areas experiencing disadvantage. Trained adults, mostly volunteers, known as Reading Partners are paired with children in the schools, and carry out oneto-one reading sessions with the child for 15 minutes, three times a week over a ten week period, during school hours. Better Reading is designed to support the middle group of learners those falling behind their peers, but not assessed as having a specific learning difficulty. In September 2010, having piloted the programme for almost three years, the Tolka Area Partnership decided to commission an independent evaluation of the programme. Following an open call for tenders, the contract was awarded to Barncat Consulting, and was carried out by Hannah Grene and Thrse McPhilips, with the assistance of Helen Bartlett. In its draft literacy and numeracy plan, the Department of Education and Science has committed to supporting family literacy initiatives in communities served by DEIS schools, particularly those initiatives proved effective through evaluation. This is therefore an extremely good time at which to evaluate Better Reading. The evaluators were asked to address two principal questions in the course of this evaluation: How effective is the Better Reading Partnership? and What is its future?


BETTER READING PARTNERSHIP STATISTICS: JANUARY 2009 JUNE 2010 100 courses completed. 14 schools currently involved 12 primary, 1 secondary, 1 special needs.

41 volunteers took part. Volunteers took on an average of 2.9 courses each. An average of 16 volunteers participated per term. 83 pupils in total completed the course. 8 pupils repeated the course. An average of 5 of the 30 sessions were missed. Average reading age improvement was 5.5 months. What they said

I love reading this book it doesnt feel like reading. (pupil comment, quoted in the Reading Partner focus group). At the start of the programme, Pavel told me that he would love to read to his little brother and recently he told me that he did, so result!!! (Reading Partner observation). [The teacher] told me that Liams mam had said that she saw a huge improvement in his reading and how happy he had become to read, she said she saw a big difference. (Reading Partner final observation). Sharon always brought home books to read to her other brothers and sisters. Sometimes she said she would act out the stories in the books with her younger sisters. (Reading Partner final observation).


It's been terrific - it really just gives them that confidence, the one-to-one time (Principal A). Strengths of the Better Reading programme Our findings show that Better Reading is a very effective model of shared/partner reading with pupils, and is supporting the literacy efforts in each of the participating schools in the Tolka Area Partnership. Some of its strengths include: It is a model of reading support that fits within the broader concept of literacy, which embraces not only word recognition and comprehension, but also developing confidence as a reader, enjoyment of reading, and engaging with books. It is in line with current government policy and academic commentary on the importance and value of community literacy initiatives. It targets an important gap the middle group of learners and, according to the principals testimony, is doing it well. It has a simple yet effective format that is easy for volunteers to deliver. Reading Partner training presents a good overview of best practice in reading instruction, with sensitivity to suitability for volunteer delivery. In particular, the Reading Partners learn to develop a range of prompts to help the childs progress as an independent reader. It has impressive coverage of its target schools, with 14 out of a total 18 DEIS schools in the area participating. There is little duplication or overlap with other programmes in the area. It has a series of internal monitoring methods, both quantitative (Hertfordshire Test, Running Records) and qualitative (volunteer observations, pupil and teacher comments). The Hertfordshire Test results show an average of 5.5 months improvement in reading age over the 10 week period more than double the improvement that could be expected in the absence of an intervention. Better Reading seems to have an enormously positive impact on childrens confidence, motivation and interest in reading outside the classroom.


Better Reading sometimes fills a gap where the child receives little literacy support in the home, but can also be shown to have a positive effect on reading in the home, with children reporting that they read aloud to parents, brothers and sisters. Recommendations for the future

The Partnership are currently piloting a numeracy programme based on Better Reading, called Better Maths. Better Reading should merge with Better Maths, to form a programme (Better Basics) with two strands: Better Reading and Better Maths.

A number of external stakeholders are key in situating Better Basics within the overall education system and schools strategy. These stakeholders include the School Completion Programme, the Home School Community Liaison, Reading Recovery and resource teachers in the schools and the Junior Cert Support Programme, and these stakeholders should be kept informed of developments in the Better Basics programme.

The Partnership should concentrate on building a sustainable programme within its current target schools (DEIS primary schools in the FinglasCabra catchment area), rather than expanding into new target audiences.

Schools should be encouraged and supported to actively promote Better Reading and recruit volunteers themselves, particularly amongst the parents. This may help also to enhance retention, as currently the most constant Reading Partners are parents of children in the school in which they volunteer.

Efforts should be made to identify a key link person within each school. Schools should be offered the opportunity to deliver Better Reading as a pull-out programme during the school day OR as an after-school activity, provided a member of staff is willing to stay behind in the school to facilitate the programme.

As all Reading Partners are currently female, efforts should be made to address this imbalance. This requires the Partnership to consult with the schools on obstacles to male participation, and their current relationships with fathers in particular.


Training for the volunteers should ideally be delivered by a teaching professional. Despite the complexity of Running Records, Reading Partners are coping well and Running Records should continue to be used. However, copies should be given to the class teacher for further interpretation.

Class teachers should be offered an introductory session to Better Basics/Better Reading, to promote greater engagement with the programme.

Courses should be run over twelve weeks, rather than ten, to allow for any sessions missed to be made up in the extra two weeks. Parents, class teachers and volunteers should be strongly encouraged to attend the end of course celebrations, as they are an excellent opportunity for informal communication between parent, school and Reading Partner, as well as a wonderful chance for the children to display what they have learned.