On fear, hesitancy & reading skills – “We read to know we are not alone”


In the Summer of 2005, troubled by the persistent and long-term difficulties a small cohort of primary school boys experienced in gaining any competency in reading skills, I sat down to revolutionise the teaching of reading. Or more precisely, the teaching of reading to young people who have already been taught to read, but have, over a prolonged period of time, failed to acquire the necessary skills.

Some of this cohort had specific learning difficulties, others moderate or general learning difficulties, some behaviour, emotional and social development difficulties; some had been on the school’s special needs register for a short time, with teacher concerns rising at impending Key Stage 2 SATs testing, others had spent the duration of their primary education on the SEN register, floating at School Action and School Action Plus, without much to interrupt the status quo.  All had Individual Education Plans which itemised in great detail an allocation of direct, re-located and in-class support for a number of key target areas, literacy and reading included.

That August 2005, I wrote Read2Succeed – http://www.learning-services.org.uk/assets/media/Flyer%20introduction%20to%20Read2succeed.pdf

A supportive Headteacher gave consent for Read2Succeed to run in her school for two pupils, selecting those most in need of support and a new direction – two young men who were increasingly brought to her attention for challenging behaviour as well as learning needs. As part of my contractual work, I committed an additional time allocation to develop my reading programme. Those were highly productive, fruitful, exciting times, working in conjunction with the SENCo, Headteacher and a very versatile and receptive teaching assistant.

Read2Succeed continues to challenge current thinking about the teaching of reading for young people who have experienced prolonged and persistent failure. My premise in the creation of Read2Succeed was that something had to be done that was different to what had been offered before, to re-motivate these young people to want to read, to re-engage them with books and with a love of reading, when failure and defiance and disaffection had become so firmly entrenched.

I began by throwing away the rule books about the teaching of reading, by clearing out over-tired and repetitive IEPs that focused on a broad spectrum of needs at the expense of truly mastering one key need, the acquisition of reading skills. All periphery education targets were brought to a halt, to give the sole focus of these two young boys’ SEN provision and IEP was Read2Succeed, on the basis of 2 x 30 minute support sessions weekly, over a 12 week period.

I began, according to my plan, session one with two boys in the school library, discussing what interested them in their lives, what mattered most to them. Both boys unsurprisingly, were interested in sports, both playing and watching a range of sports. I asked the boys to pile on a desk all those books in the library that appealed to them, whether by size, or cover design, or title or subject matter. These were boys who did not read, who were proactive in their endeavours not to read, yet despite this, the boys became eager in their searches and new found freedom, selecting almost forty books between them.

The promise I gave under the guidance of Read2Succeed, was that the boys would never be asked to read from thesir chosen library books, but whatever interested them, within the limits of time, would be read to them in each working session of Read2Succeed. The next stage involved narrowing down this wide selection to 10 books each that held their interest and appealed to them, books that would be allocated to the boys via the library loan system, for the duration of the 12 week programme.

Thus began the first session of Read2Succeed, some six years ago, sitting with two boys in the comfortable, but slightly old and tattered library chairs of a local primary school, reading about dinosaurs, footballers and finally, the first chapter of Anthony Horowitz’s ‘Stormbreaker’.

The library element and the adult reading to the child aspect of Read2Succeed has remained at its core, despite many revisions to the structured teaching of reading over the 12 week period, based on feedback from participating schools, pupils and parents.

At the heart of Read2Succeed is the belief that young people should experience success, early and foremost, if they are to persevere and confront their difficulties, particularly when self-belief and confidence is low, or non-existent. So, opportunities to pre-teach key vocabulary in reading scheme books becomes an element of practice, as does involving the young person in the process of pre-selecting scheme books to read through the 12 weeks of the programme. The adult actively facilitates success rather than presides over failure.

Around the time that I had my epiphany about the consequences of prolonged reading difficulties and committed to the creation of Read2Succeed, Jim Rose was invited by the Secretary of State for Education to write a report on the teaching of reading in English schools.

The interim report of the Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading came out in December 2005. Schools, including my client primary school with the first cohort of boys on Read2Succeed, chattered eagerly about Jim Rose and more significantly, about a systematic approach to the teaching of synthetic phonics. The final report came out in March 2006 – https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/0201-2006PDF-EN-01.pdf

In education, countless reports are commissioned, drafted, published and finally implemented. It is this ceaseless change, that is the backdrop of our education system. Despite the stirrings and chatterings of the movers and shakers, progress with Read2Succeed continued well and by July 2006, several schools had signed up to deliver Read2Succeed with cohorts of children with a range of SEN. Results for each 12 week programme, for each cohort, exceeded all expectations.

My first cohort were awarded with reading certificates in a celebratory shared whole school assembly. These were exciting times and lead to the development of a handbook that encapsulated all I had sought to achieve in my reading intervention programme. My role as hands on administrator grew less significant as I passed on the baton to others in schools, who delivered the programme from my finely tuned and revised script.

Results achieved by the 12 week intervention of Read2Succeed have remained high, with average gains in reading accuracy at 18 months and reading comprehension at 19 months over a 3 month period.  For many young people, success and progress is not confined to reading skills but is seen across the curriculum, particularly in maths, where an increased confidence and ability to manage the text of mathematical problems, inspires confidence and renewed effort and achievement.

Yet, despite all this, why is the resource not yet published or widely available, and why am I writing this now, some six years after the creation of Read2Succeed?

Fear and hesitancy can afflict us all. The same is true of adults as it is of children.

My early dealings with publishing houses began promisingly, with time committed to submitting a final draft for late 2007.  Two publishing houses were interested in my work.  I had invites to discuss Read2Succeed, to have lunch with prospective publishers. All progressed well, but it is a time consuming and protracted process, the publishing business. And fear and hesitancy corodes.

Timing, as in all things, is ever significant. I do believe the timing of the Rose Review had a significant impact upon the willingness of the publishing houses I approached, to commit to my work, which seemed the antithesis of what was being advocated quite firmly, by the Dept for Children, Schools and Families.  My manuscript did not mention synthetic phonics. I did not reference the work of Jim Rose.

I was asked to make changes to my text, to reference Rose’s Review of The Teaching of Early Reading, to acknowledge the influence of someone who by chance, had come to eminence at the time of my concern for the future of those young people who leave our primary schools with barely functional skills in reading.

The publishing offers dropped off one by one over a period of time. The concept of selling a resource and its associated products – backpacks for taking home a selection of the library books, reading badges and certificates to be given out at the end of the 12 week programme, the handbook, all through one publishing house, did not appeal to publishers who wanted the handbook, with revisions to recognize the work of Jim Rose, but did not want my controversial views on the teaching of reading.

Fear and hesitancy can afflict us all. 

I allowed myself to be fearful, to be hesitant about the relevance of my work when all around, client schools were assigning training to the development of synthetic phonics. Less and less schools were interested in running Read2Succeed when they were under threat of impending Ofsted inspections.  And beyond that my work as a consultant increasingly took me away from the direct pupil work that had been the core of my service commitment to schools in its beginning.  Opportunities to continue to promote Read2Succeed and its relevance in schools have been hard to find. Other business activities took precedent.

My ambitions for Read2Succeed have been swallowed up in the hurly burly of life this past two years, but here I am now, re-evaluating the significance of Read2Succeed and commiting once more to bring this valuable programme to the forefront of my thoughts and my energy.

“We read to know we are not alone” C S Lewis once said. With books, in reading, we are never alone. It should never be the case that we are isolated by our ignorance, by our inability to read or that we, as educators, allow others to lack what we have. and assume our God-given right.

It is in all our powers to make a difference. Fear and hesitancy no longer shall hold me back.

For more information on how Read2Succeed can support the needs of young people in your school, contact me via email at heather@learning-services.org.uk.  Interested schools in Warwickshire and the West Midlands are particularly invited to make contact.  The programme is designed to run through the Autumn and Spring terms on the basis of 2 x 30 minutes support by a suitably qualified and experienced member of the school’s own support staff, with guidance and iniital training provided by Learning Services (SEN) Ltd. 


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