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Born to Read: Improving the lives of UK children through reading

Born to Read, Save the Children
Jemima, 6, reads with volunteer, Yvonne, as part of the Born to Read programme.

By Melissa Smith, Head of Born to Read

This week our UK-based Born to Read programme has an exciting reason to celebrate.

It’s our birthday!

We’ve been working for two years now, in partnership with children’s literacy charity Beanstalk, to change children’s life chances by improving their reading skills.

Escaping poverty

We believe that education is the route out of poverty – and literacy is the key to education.

But every year in England, 120,000 children leave primary school unable to read as well as they should.

This means that 1.5 million children will start secondary school already behind, making it even more difficult for them to fulfil their potential.

Passionate volunteers

Our Born to Read programme places trained volunteers in local primary schools where they read one-to-one with three children. This develops the child’s reading skills and also forms a really important adult-child relationship.

Our volunteers tailor sessions to the child’s needs, so no two Born to Read sessions are ever the same.

Children can choose for themselves what they read in sessions. I’ve seen crosswords, word puzzles, articles from sports pages, dictionaries and even dishwasher manuals make their way into volunteer sessions.

More than reading

We recently placed our 1,000th volunteer – another tremendous milestone.

These dedicated individuals have already made a difference to the lives of nearly 6,000 children – which means we’re on track to hit our ambitious target to reach 23,000 children.

The reading sessions have a huge impact on children’s reading ability, but they also improve children’s general confidence, behaviour and relationship-building skills.

One child told us: “I wasn’t good at reading, when I got better at reading I spelled out all the words correctly.

“She [my reading volunteer] helps me spell the words. I didn’t used to know all the words but now I feel great”.

Supporting schools

Teachers tell us that they trust and rely on our volunteers, and that it’s a way of adding capacity to the school, where time is so often stretched.

One head teacher told us: “We choose children who we think would benefit from the consistent, one-to-one attention.

“Our school was recently judged Outstanding by Ofsted because of the progress our children are making.

“I believe this is because of the whole package we offer our pupils – our teachers, the teaching staff and volunteers all working together.

The volunteers are very much part of that jigsaw.”

A community role

Born to Read is enriching for our volunteers too.

It gives them the chance to make the most of their skills and experience, as well as develop new skills through training.

Volunteers also feel more closely linked to their local community and to their fellow volunteers.

One volunteer told us: “You keep in touch with how education is going, with the community.

“You can see the children flourishing. Particularly when children have been struggling, you can see how much you’re helping them, or they start talking when they didn’t before, then that’s really rewarding”.

Changing lives

For each of the children we’ve worked with since Born to Read launched two years ago, there’s yet another story to tell about how their life has changed since working with our volunteers.

We might not remember learning to read as a child and take for granted the fact that we can read this blog, but ask yourself – where would you be if you couldn’t?

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