Help with reading tames the truants

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A government-funded reading scheme for children in inner-city schools has brought them on by six months in just 10 weeks and may even have helped to cut crime, researchers say.

The programme, which aims to help 8,000 pupils in Bradford by next March, is being picked up by other local authorities across Britain and abroad. Its leaders say it is the most successful reading scheme ever run in this country for average and below-average children.

Pupils have become so much better at reading that their other school work has improved, their enthusiasm for education has grown and they are now far less likely to play truant.

This could be one reason why burglaries on the city's Holmewood and Bierley estates have dropped to less than half their 1992 level, according to the head of Bradford City Challenge Ltd, which distributed funds for the scheme.

John Watson, chief executive of the company set up in 1992 with pounds 38m from the Government and pounds 130m from the private sector, said many people believed the Better Reading Partnership scheme had helped.

"We have related the number of young people breaking into houses directly to the truancy rate. If the children are able to read they are more likely to be interested in what goes on at school and less likely to play truant. Because they are not on the streets they are less likely to be breaking into houses," he said.

Although other initiatives, such as the recruitment of dedicated police officers for the estates and renovation and security improvements for homes, had certainly helped to cut crime, the reading programme had played its part, he said.

The scheme was designed to complement the national reading recovery programme, which is aimed at the bottom 10 per cent of readers. The Better Reading Partnership helps those who are not in that group but who are below average.

It now employs more than 350 volunteers who have received two days of training. Each spends three 15-minute periods per week with a particular child for 10 weeks, reading first a familiar book, then one the pupil has read at home, then an unfamiliar one.

Kevan Collins, language and literacy adviser for Bradford, said the training given to the volunteers helped them immensely. "The way that the adults have come through with such professionalism and ability has left us all feeling humble," he said.

Children who took part in the scheme were six months further on when they finished it and were still well ahead of their classmates three months later, researchers from Bradford city council will announce today.

At St Stephen's Church of England First School both pupils and parents have benefited according to the head- teacher, Elizabeth Mansbridge. It was usually difficult to get parents involved, she said, but now the school had nine trained reading volunteers.

"They really are keen on it and they have taken it on board. It is the one scheme we have found that has successfully brought parents into school," she said.