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Transforming children’s futures – Linda Cohen

Two years ago, I launched Read with me in Gloucestershire having begun to understand through work in Somerset the terrible disadvantage that not being heard to read or read to at home can deliver to our children but also how quickly and easily you can put it right with two one to one sessions of reading every week.

This simple intervention with their reading ensures that the futures of our talented children aren’t written or indeed written off by the age of 7.

Most would have regarded it as the worst time to start a social enterprise, but I believe that it actually gave us an opportunity to get stuck in and make a real difference when it mattered most.

Children who are unable to read properly at 7 never really catch up. These children do less well at school, have reduced employment choices and earning opportunities and a greater chance of going to prison.

Every year 200,000 children will leave primary school unable to read well

1 in 4 five years olds struggle with basic vocabulary

96% of primary school teachers are concerned about pupil’s speech and language

This of course was before Covid which has made everything worse.

I thought I knew most of the challenges we are facing but more recently I’ve spent time looking at where children are when they arrive at school and the truth is that many children have had no experience of nursery rhymes or clapping games and as a result any sense of rhythm. A poverty of picture books produces 7 year olds who can’t identify baby animals.

Read with me tries to help bridge the gap.

Our volunteers hear primary school children read twice a week for 10/15 minutes – we provide one to one time which allows for the discussion which improves social and communication skills and builds confidence.

We’re here to give them the first building blocks of self-belief.

Many of the children we hear read are never heard to read or read to at home.

Our children have a real poverty of life experience even if they can read a word, they often don’t know what it means.

Some have never been to the seaside; many have never even left the area in which they live.

We’re able to expand their horizons and take a real interest in what makes them tick. We enhance our impact with whatever floats their boat – additional book titles, craft materials, chess sets, and we encourage them to fulfil their potential.

We’re now hearing 1,500 children a week in Gloucestershire.

We’ve seen outstanding results.

In a Year 1 class where only 45% were achieving the expected standard in Reception, by the end of Year 1 80% had reached the standard.

This demonstrates the power of an effective partnership with the school. By working together, we can achieve the exceptional.

Clearly the last 2 years have been more than a little tricky and we’ve had to conjure up resources and a response to meet a changing landscape. We’ve collected pre loved books, set up wish lists for craft materials and produced hundreds of bespoke book packs for children in the schools in which we hear children read and across Gloucester. We also created our now hugely popular Not So Secret Book Club which takes place in outdoor spaces every school holiday including Christmas. Children enjoy games, activities, story time and there are of course free books to take home.

We are able to provide fantastic value for money.

It only costs £50 per child to hear them read twice a week for a year as well as all the other added value holiday provision.

But now it’s crunch time:

We’ve managed to get to reach 1,500 children but we need to reach 2,500 as soon as possible and that’s going to mean scaling the operation to meet the demands of managing the daily provision.

We need to attract 100 new volunteers.

We need to develop a service for pre-schoolers.

We’ve done a huge amount to be self-sufficient, but we need to raise £50,000 to ensure delivery of our service for the next 12 months. The same cost as two teaching assistants.

Relatively it’s a tiny amount to secure the futures of these children.

So, the task is to resource and fund the service to ensure sustainable provision which will mean that every child in Gloucestershire who needs our help can rely on us helping them to step over the gap and fulfil their true potential.

Linda Cohen

Co-Founder Read with me