When Stewart Foster, author of the bestselling books The Bubble Boy and All The Things That Could Go Wrong, came to talk to our KS2 classes he created such an infectious buzz about reading it had to be seen to be believed. For most of the children, this was the first author they had met – Stewart received high-fives and a pop-star welcome – and suddenly, reading was cool!
Children who previously weren’t that interested in books suddenly started borrowing from the school library. Then thanks to Stewart encouraging the children to write freely and without the constraints of punctuation and grammar in his workshops, short stories appeared with notes attached: ‘please send to Stewart’.
Boys who had been reluctant to read had found a role model, plus some began to see themselves in Stewart’s well-defined characters and the local setting of Brighton. The enthusiasm didn’t stop with the children – staff and parents caught the buzz as well.
Teachers wanted suggestions for fresh books to read to their classes, eagerly reading someof the titles themselves and creating boards with recommendations. As a result of inviting parents to Stewart’s book signing, copies made their way into homes accompanied by discussion and notes of thanks were received for providing such an enjoyable experience.
‘At Glebe, we love to read’ is a school motto. In fact we are a self-branded ‘reading school’. But we couldn’t have achieved this without the support and enthusiasm of our visiting authors.
Yet many schools today can barely afford to buy paper towels and glue sticks, as funding is continuously cut and budgets get tighter. As a primary school in West Sussex, faced with being funded between 50-75 per cent lower than equivalent size schools in most London boroughs under the new National Funding Formula, why on earth would we be thinking about spending a few hundred pounds to get someone into school to talk about their book? Quite simply, because it’s worth it.
Glebe’s passion for reading is now also supported by our Patron of Reading, writer Vashti Hardy who has been developing a scheme of work with our Y3 team based on her book, Brightstorm. Vashti’s regular friendly visits to our school have inspired creative map making and story-telling, bringing enrichment and opportunities for literacy (across reading, writing, listening and speaking) that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
These events can only come about through thoughtful planning, creative fundraising and asking for parental contributions (just £1 or £2 each can soon add up). For future visits, we are aiming to work with other local schools and have some shared events in the pipeline.
In order to keep our library stock fresh, we make good use of West Sussex School Library Service, enter competitions and our Chatterbooks group reviews new books.
Author visits and follow-up contacts via Twitter have brought Glebe countless benefits. Indeed they could fill an article twice as long, but the fact that one boy in Y6 (who had been struggling to engage with literacy on any level) now carries his signed copy of Stewart’s book round with him like a treasured possession, proves that the most powerful impact has been on individual children – and you simply cannot put a price on that.