Scheme improves reading for children in disadvantaged areas
Reading is a vital skill for all children in our community. The ability to read well impacts on all aspects of a child’s learning and defines their first steps in education. However, the ability to read is not consistent across society with children in disadvantaged areas leaving primary school with a reading age below the expected level.
Since the pandemic, the learning loss for those in disadvantaged areas has grown. The Let Leeds Read scheme, facilitated by Leeds Beckett University, aims to redress this by providing support with phonics, one of the most effective ways to teach children how to read. In doing so we also instill a love of reading in the young people to foster a lifelong skill, critical to their educational journey.
Let Leeds Read has been co-created with educational experts in our Carnegie School of Education and Key Stage 1 teachers from local schools. We train specialist education students to work with small groups of pupils who are facing challenges with phonics and reading. The focus on Key Stage 1 phonics helps to address barriers to learning among disadvantaged cohorts at an early stage in their education and supports the OfS recommendation that ‘higher education providers play an important role in supporting the educational attainment of young people from underrepresented groups and reducing the gaps between these students and their more advantaged peers.’ 
Students on education degrees are trained in delivering short 20-minute phonics intervention sessions with small groups of year 1 pupils who will benefit from additional support. Our students are asked to make the sessions creative and interactive so that the pupils enjoy the session and become more enthusiastic about reading. The sessions last for six weeks with a visit to campus offered to participating schools.
To measure the impact of the sessions we used both pre- and post-evaluation surveys and teacher assessment to monitor how effective the sessions had been in developing skills in phonics. Our T-test analysis showed significant improvements in pupils’ fluency and blending in reading, sounding out words and enthusiasm for reading.
All participants in the post-evaluation survey reported that they enjoyed the sessions and that their reading has improved, or that they enjoy it more, as a result of the scheme. At the end of the programme, all the children who take part are given a bag and two books from the University to encourage reading at home. We also ask them what they have enjoyed about the programme. One of the children replied: “My bag! I didn’t have any books at home, now I have two!”
Sarah Thomas and Dr Claire Rutherford Chapman, Leeds Beckett University
 Strategic relationships with schools and raising attainment, Office for Students, 27 July 2020