At every primary school there are pupils for whom reading is a challenging experience.
And Baird Primary Academy in Hastings was no exception to this rule.
A number of the school’s pupils were firmly positioned in the reluctant-reader category, viewing books as something to be endured only within the four walls of the classroom.
But, according to assistant principal Fiona Parmee, those attitudes have been turned on their head since the school’s participation in reading-reward initiative Buster’s Book Club.
And Ms Parmee says that it’s not just the children who have been struck by the reading bug, but parents and teachers, too.
Indeed, Ms Parmee says parental involvement is one of the key factors in Buster’s success, citing the case of young Aliya Reid as an example.
She explains: “When Buster’s was introduced, she was barely reading at home at all. But, as a result of this, she reads every Wednesday.
“Mum gets involved, and records it for her. So, there’s the encouragement and the involvement from home.
“We try to get parents as well as the children engaged, so that the school and the home are working together.”
Aliya herself says: “Buster’s Book Club has made a difference to me because I wasn’t good at reading before, and now I am very good. And it helps other people too.”
Ms Parmee adds: “Even the staff have been challenged to join in reading, so we also record how much we read on a Wednesday night or whether we have read.
This school-wide enthusiasm for Buster’s – with staff, parents and pupils all actively participating – has helped transform children’s reading habits and abilities.
“There has been evidence of children taking books out on the playground,” Ms Parmee says, “more children being engaged in reading and being able to talk about the books that they are reading, and it’s really helping with bringing up the children’s level and seeing them make progress in school.”
Run by Inspire Schools, Buster’s Book Club works through a system of friendly competition.
Each week, each child in the school is set a reading target: they must read at home for a set number of minutes, either alone, with a parent, or by listening to an audio book.
Classes compete against each other to see which can get the highest number of pupils hitting or exceeding their target.
And each week, the school will give out a trophy to the best class – perhaps the class that has read the most, or the one that has made the biggest effort or shown the most improvement.
In addition, each month classes compete against every class in every participating school in their district.
And the winning classes at the district level are rewarded with prizes that range from story-time sessions with celebrities and children’s authors, to free-entry vouchers to visitor attractions such as leisure centres and animal parks.
Ms Parmee says the competitive element – “and the fact that children can win some really terrific prizes” ‑ has been crucial to Buster’s success at Baird Academy.
Inspire Schools chief executive Simon Dolby says the experience of Aliya is proof of Buster’s ability to motivate children left cold by traditional approaches.
“The beauty of Buster’s is that it injects an element of fun into a learning experience that some children can find very stressful.
“It takes reading and literacy out of the context of classrooms, education and assessment, and makes it cool.
“And reluctant readers, like Aliya, quite often turn into the most enthusiastic Buster’s participants.
“The scheme is also very flexible, and schools can easily adapt it to the specific needs of their pupils.”
The club is supported by Gatwick Airport, the Ernest Cook Trust, Little Cheyne Court, the Kent Community Foundation, Golding Vision, Orbit, Specsavers, Leeds Castle, Diggerland, Hornby, Wildwood, Rotary, Acorns Read and Grow, the Crown Foundation, the Gibbons Trust, Kent and Medway councils, Sussex Newspapers, Summerfields Leisure, Brighton Sea Life Centre and 3D Recruit.
And watch a video about Aliya and Baird Primary Academy’s experience with Buster’s Book Club here: