“Without specialist support the most disadvantaged pupils will never catch up”

Reema Reid, Head Teacher at Hollydale School, and also Head Teacher of the Year 2021, was the keynote speaker at our 30th anniversary event this year.  In a moving and powerful speech, Reema shared her thoughts on the importance of literacy, the challenge of getting catch up provision to work well and her experience of partnering successfully with the charity to close the literacy gap for children who need the most help.

Reema Reid has been the Head Teacher of Hollydale Primary School, in the London Borough of Southwark, since 2013.

Hollydale is a school which serves an area which is socially, economically and educationally deprived and where nearly 40% of pupils receive free school meals. It is also a school which focuses on opportunity, with the ambition for all pupils to be the best that they can be and to reach their full potential.

But there are many challenges.

On average, children from a poor background start school 19 months behind those from wealthier backgrounds and sadly, for some, the gap in reading and writing skills widens as they get older.

This literacy gap is linked to complex factors such as parental economic circumstances and challenging home lives and in spite of high quality teaching in England, one in five children leave primary school without reaching expected levels in reading and writing.

Hollydale School works hard to help close the literacy gap for those children who need the most help and since 2015 The Children’s Literacy Charity has worked in partnership with the school.

As the keynote speaker for the charity’s 30th anniversary event, Reema spoke powerfully and movingly about her experience as a Head Teacher:

They say the world belongs to those that read. A child who reads will be an adult that thinks.”

“In 2010, when I was dropping my youngest daughter off to a school in Lambeth I noticed a brightly lit room with attractive reading displays, with common words displayed and a rich literacy environment. I knocked on the door and asked what was the focus of this classroom. The tutors said that this was a dedicated Literacy Lab space run by a charity where they supported children to close their literacy gap and become confident with their reading skills. I observed expert tutors who were passionate and committed to helping children become readers.”

“I have seen the impact of The Children’s Literacy Charity on children at Hollydale School”

 “I vowed that when I became a substantive Head Teacher, I would work with such an intervention which could so effectively change children’s lives.  I have been true to my word and I have seen the impact of The Children’s Literacy Charity on children at Hollydale School.  Here is just one example:

Alex* was seven years old and still not reading even though teaching at Hollydale School is robust and focused with a strong emphasis on the reading curriculum. We referred Alex to the charity’s Literacy Lab where children who need extra help attend 45-minute one-to-one or small group tutor sessions twice a week.

Within two terms, Alex was not only reading but had increased his phonics knowledge and showed accelerated progress.  As importantly, he began to read for pleasure and grow in confidence. 

He became not only a reader but a leader too and is now one of the Reading Buddies in my school who read with younger children.”

“This is a great example of the power of intervention”

“Alex passed his Y6 end of stage reading SATs and was at the expected level for reading by the time he left primary school, ready for that important transition to secondary school. This is a great example of the power of intervention.  I’ve seen many children at Hollydale School make rapid progress with the support given by The Children’s Literacy Charity tutors.

I have always been an educator who has been passionate about literacy and I have explored and implemented many interventions designed to support children’s reading.

However, The Children’s Literacy Charity has proven that the impact of their one-to-one and small group teaching offers significant progress in developing reading skills and closing the literacy gap.”

And the need for specialist support has never been greater. 

“The pandemic has caused a widening gap for children who are not readers and a report in July 2021 showed that primary pupils were further behind expectations than those at secondary school.

As a Head Teacher I have found that not only am I trying to meet the needs of more pupils who are further behind than ever but increased pressure on budgets mean I have less to spend on much needed intervention. 

Without specialist support the most disadvantaged pupils will never catch up. Catch up is easy to say but difficult to get right. Not all interventions are effective in boosting attainment and no single programme is enough. However, working with The Children’s Literacy Charity for over five years, I have seen the impact that it has had on my pupils reading, comprehension, confidence, resilience and reading for pleasure.   So many are now readers and they can grasp all the opportunities available to become leaders. 

Nelson Mandela said famously that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.   He also said: “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”  As I say to my children: if you read for just 15 minutes a day in one year, you will have read 1,000,000 words!

Thank you, The Children’s Literacy Charity for all your support and for being such an integral part of my team.”

Together, I hope we will close the literacy gap and broaden horizons for many more children.”

Photographs of children who attend the Literacy Lab at Hollydale Primary School.

Read more about our Literacy and Reading Labs in primary schools.

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