Term 4 2020
- Feature article
- Regular features
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Fathers reading week: a case study for the Great School Libraries campaign
Lucy Chambers, Chartered Librarian, explores how to create a reading culture and encourage parental engagement within your school community.
The UK Great School Libraries Campaign1 invites school librarians to submit case studies, to demonstrate how their library contributes to teaching and learning in the school. I take you through the process of writing a new case study based on Fathers Reading Week. Note: the word ‘Fathers’ includes other male role models.
The Great School Libraries Campaign (GSL) ‘Great School Libraries is a three-year evidence-based campaign to bring back libraries and access to librarians in every school in the UK. Our guiding principle is a firm belief that every child deserves a great school library.’2 GSL’s survey of primary and secondary school libraries found a mixed picture ‘of inequality of access and opportunity and insecure employment’.3
Why request case studies?
There is little evaluative research in the UK on the effectiveness of school libraries, so one of GSL’s aims was to correct this. The information gathered would be used ‘to raise awareness with school managers, educationalists and other library professionals of how librarians can support the strategic goals of the school.’4
GSL Case Study template: a closer look
The GSL Case Study template has six boxes to complete, each requiring a detailed response. For example, the ‘What?’ box asks respondents to describe their project, including intended outcome, ways of achieving it, and any issues. The ‘Why?’ box asks for demonstrated ‘accountable benefits to the school community’ and the measure of ‘impact on teaching and learning’. The ‘Advice’ box calls for details that will help and inspire others. GSL prefers a formal writing style but says, ‘Case studies are individual journeys … we want to help you record your achievements’.5
Case studies examples
Examples of completed case studies come in four categories: ‘Reading for Pleasure and Information’, ‘Wellbeing/Diversity’, ‘Learning through Inquiry’ and ‘School Libraries during Lockdown’. They are wide-ranging and inspirational. Topics include running a readathon, oral storytelling, a playground book trolley, library lessons, online support, e-books, reading groups, free writing and many more. These are written by school librarians in both state and independent primary and secondary schools.6
A worked example: Fathers Reading Week at a Tower Hamlets primary school
I have anonymised the school. This report is based on notes made during the planning, operation and evaluation of the project. The section headings are taken from the GSL case studies template. I suggest you download the case study template (footnote 4) to read the headers and more detailed guidance.
What and why?
This is an inner-city school with high levels of social deprivation, mainly English as an additional language (EAL) pupils of Bangladeshi heritage with an above national average of special educational needs.
I worked here one day a week from 2012 to 2015, as part of a team of primary school librarians based at Tower Hamlets SLS.
Senior staff priorities
- Improve reading in the school. The relevant Ofsted report stated: The proportion of pupils attaining the expected standard by the end of Year 6 was below the national average and well below at the higher levels.
- Develop family involvement. Research showed that this improved pupils’ uptake of education. (See the Research section below.)
- Encourage participation by fathers/male role models in their children’s education.
The Family Support Worker (FSW) and I planned a Fathers Reading Week in June 2014.
We held three meetings and shared tasks: I concentrated on sourcing resources, setting up events, negotiating with the Head, booking and running the author visit and cinema night; the FSW handled the day-to-day school contact, timetabling issues, finding volunteers for the after-school events, speaking about the project at a staff meeting and encouraging families to take part. We offered something for every class, from Nursery to Year 6. We organised the following events:
- Storyteller Pat Ryan: storytelling assembly (whole school), Rhymetime (Reception, Years 1 and 2), writing workshops (Years 3 to 6).
- Fathers shared stories in class (drop-in); children wrote and drew favourite stories (whole school).
- Father–child homework: fathers reading to children and sharing stories about their school days or childhood (whole school).
- Father–child homework: football-based writing and creative activities (ages 6 to 11).
- Timetabled reading opportunities in class: I borrowed 40 books for each class from SLS; football stories and non-fiction, traditional tales, father–child stories.
- Children dressing up as their fathers.
- Family assembly.
- Competition: children drawing portraits of their father.
- Display of father portraits in playground for families.
- Cinema night: Years 3 to 6.
- Cricket match: fathers v. school cricket team.
Our budget was £300, which covered the storyteller and prizes. Everything else was free of cost.
Research from the Fatherhood Institute and the National Literacy Trust (NLT) reflected school issues. Fathers who are involved in their children’s early education have a significant impact on attainment and on future aspiration … Conversely, low interest by fathers in their children’s education (particularly boys) has a stronger negative impact on their achievement than contact with the police, poverty, family type, social class, housing tenure and child’s personality.7
Family Matters: The Importance of Family Support for Young People’s Reading (NLT)8 found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to get encouragement to read and to see their parents read, particularly their fathers, and that children whose parents encourage them to read and are seen reading themselves achieve higher reading levels at school.
The most popular events were:
- Film night. Seventy children attended.
- Playground display. Around 30 families and many fathers attended.
- Fathers sharing stories. Teachers were very pleased with attendance at the fathers’ drop-in storytelling, particularly in EY. Fathers with no spoken English shared stories in their
mother tongue and fathers enjoyed listening to other fathers telling stories. Staff said this was a valuable experience and should be expanded to include mothers.
- Storyteller Pat Ryan. Very positive comments from staff about Pat Ryan: ‘Excellent, great at communication with all ages’ (a teacher); ‘all stories based round father–child relationship’ (a teacher); ‘great to have a male literary role model’ (Literacy Coordinator).
- Father-child homework. Children were very enthusiastic about this.
- Cricket match. Dads, brothers and grandparents took part. Very positive reactions.
- Staff: reluctant to change routines or volunteer after school. Lack of staff enthusiasm and marketing in the class meant that take-up of some activities was quite low, e.g. fancy dress.
- More fathers dropped in for storytelling in the younger classes than in the older ones. Some children were in tears if their parent didn’t arrive. FSW identified children with no father living at home in advance and discussed the options of inviting another male role model to take part.
If I were to run this event again, I would collate more comments and data via evaluative questionnaires for families, staff and children.
- We judged Fathers Reading Week a success to be built on.
- I established one family event per term (in addition to other regular reading-for-pleasure initiatives for pupils, such as clubs, shadowing book awards, entering competitions, displays). October: National Poetry Day (poetry sharing for families and display of staff favourite poems around the school). March: Book Week around World Book Day. June: family after-school reading event, sharing myths and other stories, with resources borrowed from the SLS.
- The FSW worked with families of the children missing fathers or male role models.
- Staff were keen to include mothers in a school literacy event, for example a Mother’s Day reading week.
- Staff invited parents to read with children in class regularly.
- The Literacy Coordinator included library events in her annual planning. We worked more closely on involving the whole school and community in reading development events.
Advice: three statements to help others
- Library projects should be included in annual school planning and supported by the senior management team in order to ensure full staff participation.
- Thank everybody who helped you, to encourage willing participation in future.
- It is very useful to work on projects like this with a member of staff who comes at it from a different angle and is full-time, as it helps to integrate the project in the life of the school.
The GSL case study template gives a workable structure to project reports. Citing research gives it gravitas. The guidance ensures that you consider evaluating your project from the start. I recommend using the template to write case studies and to demonstrate the impact of librarian-led projects on improving literacy.
3 Nick Poole in Survey of primary and secondary school libraries (2019), retrieved from greatschoollibraries.org.uk/news
4 Case study template found at greatschoollibraries.org.uk/case-studies
5 Case study template found at greatschoollibraries.org.uk/case-studies
7 Blanden, J. (2006). ‘Bucking the trend’: What enables those who are disadvantaged in childhood to succeed later in life? Working Paper No 31 Corporate Document Services.
London: Department for Work and Pensions
8 Clark, C and Picton, I. (2012). Family Matters: The Importance of Family Support for Young People’s Reading. Findings from the National Literacy Trust’s annual survey 2011.
London: National Literacy Trust.