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Local News

The volunteers stopping ‘a generation of children’ falling behind after Covid wrecked their schooling


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An army of volunteers is urgently needed to help South Yorkshire school children catch up on their reading following the pandemic.

Even before Covid hit, one in four children were leaving primary school unable to read to the required standard but repeated lockdowns have added to the problem

Now children’s literacy charity Schoolreaders is looking for volunteers to start in January to help South Yorkshire’s most disadvantaged pupils.

Read more news and updates from Sheffield here

“Literacy opens doors, helps learning and brings new opportunities”

Schoolreaders founder Jane Whitbread says reading, particularly for the youngest children, has been set back enormously by the pandemic and there’s a risk a generation of children will fall behind.

“We’ve heard so many stories from teachers of how their pupils’ literacy levels have been affected and, anecdotally, they are also struggling in other areas such as with poor concentration levels, inability to follow instructions, forgetting English if it’s not their first language, finding routine tricky or simply not knowing when their birthday is.

“Children need positive role models in the classroom and we have many schools who are desperate for volunteers to enable their pupils to catch up.

“Being one of our volunteers is a very positive thing to do and a way individuals can do their bit to help the next generation, making a difference to the future of children in their communities and providing a crucial supplement to classroom teaching.

“Children who leave primary school unable to read well cannot access their secondary schooling fully which is likely to affect their life chances.”

Volunteers are asked to listen to children read a minimum of once a week in term time and to commit to an academic year. They will be matched to a school once they have completed a mandatory DBS check and virtual safeguarding training.

To find out more or to apply visit

The Sheffield grandad helping the younger generation

John Jasnoch, who has six grandchildren and three great grandchildren, is a Schoolreaders volunteer from Chapeltown.

John, 68, retired three years ago and now helps pupils at E-Act Pathways Academy, a primary school in Longley.

He said: “I saw a Schoolreaders poster up at the school and it immediately sparked my interest.

“I wanted to create a regular structure to my week so applied straight away. I’ve never worked with children directly but as a retired social worker in an adult mental health team, there is some crossover with my career so I felt confident this was a role I could do.”

Covid caused some initial disruption but John was able to start at the beginning of the summer term in 2021 listening to pupils in Y1 and Y2.

“The school is just a few miles from my home and is in an area of significant deprivation but I think the general standard of reading amongst the pupils is very good.

“The school gives every child the opportunity to read one-to-one to me so I hear most pupils during the course of the week.

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“I’ve been very impressed by how the children have come on in their reading in just a few months.

“It varies as the children do cross the attainment spectrum but it’s no problem and I enjoy finding strategies to encourage each child individually and make them feel inspired by their reading.”

John says school staff have been very helpful and he’s building rapport with the pupils.

“It’s fantastic to see their individual personalities develop and hear their unique thoughts on the stories they read.

“I have one boy who doesn’t read but I get him to look at a few words and letters and just follow his pace. Even just doing this I can see his literacy levels growing as the weeks fly by.

“I look forward to Wednesday and Thursday mornings and always feel so positive afterwards.”

Pupils thoroughly enjoy their reading, says Sheffield headteacher

Elizabeth Long, interim headteacher at E-Act Pathways Academy, says volunteer help is invaluable
Elizabeth Long, interim headteacher at E-Act Pathways Academy, says volunteer help is invaluable

Elizabeth Long, interim headteacher at E-Act Pathways Academy, says John has been a brilliant ambassador.

“We firmly believe that reading unlocks knowledge and gives access to all areas of the curriculum, stimulating words and knowledge about the wider world.

“Reading is very important to the life of our school and most of our pupils thoroughly enjoy their reading lessons.

“Inevitably lockdowns have led to some gaps in literacy levels amongst our disadvantaged pupils but we’ve definitely picked up the pace of support for those pupils who were set back due to the pandemic.

“We’re confident that with the support of the teaching staff, our volunteers and by encouraging regular reading throughout the school week those gaps are beginning to be filled.”

How does reading help children?

“A typical Y1 child, aged five to six, will have daily reading sessions where they practise segmenting and blending words building on the phonics programme.

“Reading aloud to an adult is especially important for looked after children as they don’t always have this at home.

“Our reading volunteers are an additional, valuable resource helping us to improve fluency amongst our children.

“It helps our pupils to develop when they are around different people who are from different walks of life.

“All children end the day with Pleasure for Reading where they hear a story book in class or around school in the quad, outdoor classroom, library, immersive classroom and comfortable reading spaces.

E-Act Pathways Academy primary at Longley says reading is an important part of school life
E-Act Pathways Academy primary at Longley says reading is an important part of school life

“They are encouraged to ask questions and discuss the characters, authors and story. Reading for pleasure is a learning skill which will deliver lifelong benefits.

“We have a brand new library which gives the children a nice, airy, open space to get comfortable and immerse themselves in books.

“We occasionally use screens featuring reading programmes so children can access different types of texts but, in reality, we all love the touch and feel of books.”

To get the latest email updates from Yorkshire Live, click here .

Written by: Rother Radio News

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