How developing a love of reading is helping support care experienced children and young people in Dumfries and Galloway

02 March 2023

Topic: Education
Author: Alison Ferla

A pupil reading in a school libraryAlison Ferla, Principal Teacher of the Care Experienced Education Team in Dumfries and Galloway, works with the team to improve the educational outcomes and experiences of care experienced children and young people there. This World Book Day, Alison discusses how the team’s teaching staff and a care experienced support officer are supporting schools to help children and young people develop their skills through a love of reading.

Exposure to books and reading for pleasure plays an important role in determining long-term attainment, achievement and wellbeing for children and young people. In Dumfries and Galloway, teachers from our Care Experienced Education Team are working together across secondary schools to encourage young people to engage with books and reading materials in a range of contexts - to improve reading, develop confidence, increase social interaction and to help with wellbeing and relaxation. From libraries and book clubs to personalised reading lists, the impact that a connection with books and a joy of reading can have can be truly life-changing!

Developing new skills through a paired reading scheme

At one of our secondary schools in Dumfries and Galloway, a teacher who started working with the Care Experienced Education Team had successfully implemented a reading scheme in a previous role and wondered whether this might help provide targeted support for care experienced pupils who struggled with their self-belief when it came to reading. This paired reading scheme offers children and young people the chance to practice their reading skills with a partner, gain a better understanding of what they are reading, and can also provide homework support – all in a relaxed space. The scheme had already proved successful for younger pupils in S1 and S2 and was piloted to include some care experienced pupils aged 14-16 in S3 and S4.

The sessions were held in the school library and, over time, the one-to-one support that care experienced children and young people received during the sessions helped to improve their reading fluency, increase their self-confidence, and develop supportive relationships in a safe and nurturing environment. We also make sure to celebrate their successes, with pupils receiving certificates, bookmarks, and positive feedback to parents and carers at home. The paired reading sessions have proved so beneficial that the team is hoping to expand the support it offers to pupils around reading next year!

The role of school libraries in supporting personal development

Teachers in the Care Experienced Education Team often find that school libraries can be a quiet place where pupils can start to relax and open up. By encouraging the use of school libraries, some care experienced young people at two of our secondary schools in Dumfries and Galloway have also had the chance to develop and strengthen positive relationships with both members of staff and other young people. In addition to developing their reading skills, pupils were offered the opportunity to take on roles of responsibility in the libraries, including renewing, caring for and returning books, as well as serving people who use the library in a ‘customer service’ type role. Delegating some of these responsibilities had a significant impact on the young people, helping them to feel more included and valued in the school, whilst also developing skills in organisation and communication. Developing new skills in a quiet, safe place helped the pupils’ self-confidence to blossom, and helped to encourage a joy of reading more generally.

Supported by members of the team, the young people have developed their own reading skills by exploring reading materials that reflect their interests and finding out more about authors they have read in class. They are encouraged to explore different genres and mediums through engaging with the materials the library has to offer, including graphic novels, manga, and audio books, as well as traditional fiction books.

Some of our more established readers are supported and encouraged too, with teachers creating personalised reading lists and holding ‘book club’ style discussions. In addition to sharing their thoughts on books, these discussions have also recognised the many benefits of reading, including its contribution to positive mental health and wellbeing.

Providing tailored support through books

One of the most rewarding things that has come out our focus on reading in Dumfries and Galloway has been the building of relationships between teachers in the Care Experienced Education Team and their pupils. At another school in the area, books have played a key role in strengthening relationships and building a rapport between teachers and pupils. One care experienced pupil described reading as their ‘escape’ and their love of reading prompted their teacher from the team to create a personalised book list for them. Containing a mixture of titles to cater to the pupil’s personal interest, the list also included books and reading materials that linked to the personal experiences of the young reader. An absolute highlight this term was when the young reader decided to escape into the same book that was also being read by their teacher!

Books can be an enjoyable and much-needed escape, but they can also be a useful tool to support emotional development, enhance understanding and provide a context – particularly for young people who sometimes may not feel that their experiences are shared by the real-life people around them. By developing a love of reading for pleasure and providing opportunities for personal development, children and young people can develop life-long habits that encourage improved educational outcomes and better life chances.

Read more about the work of Virtual School Head Teachers and Care Experienced Teams in Scotland 


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