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Engaged Readers project in a Brighton Primary School

The University of Sussex Widening Participation team were approached by Brighton and Hove Traveller Education Support Unit to run a Primary School-based interaction where there was a significant number of learners of traveller-heritage; this was factored on the success of other projects run between the university and local authorities, with notable input from Friends, Families, and Travellers (FFT). The resultant ‘Engaged Reader’ initiative, borrowing from a similar and successful project run by EMTAS in Hants sought to provide creative approaches to support enriched reading time among young traveller-heritage learners. Pairing readers from travelling backgrounds for short periods of time, but for multiple times a week over an extended period created a ‘special’ place and space for learners to share, enjoy, and cherish reading within a ‘trusted’ group setting. The ‘trusted’ group also removed the potential peer pressure of disparities in reading ability (a recent NEON Report outlined the gap in reading standards between ‘all pupils’ and those with Traveller-heritage; the internalisation of the ‘perceived’ failure in such scenarios is well documented in psychology literature). Futhermore, the importance of this initiative is buoyed where research has shown the value of reading for attainment, for pleasure, also the benefits of developing these skills in a Primary setting. The project sought to also provide meaningful support for the Lead teacher for the school in terms of how the school furthered their engagement with the local ‘traveller’ community. As a multi-stakeholder collaborative, the project was able to provide a scaffold of resources, experience, and knowledge for the school. Additionally, this engagement also offered an authentic voice within the community via a trusted contact as a conduit and checkpoint, giving a more tangible presence to the community. Finally, the project hoped to create a palpable network, giving structure to the School Lead regards ‘go-to’ people in terms of organisations and authorities supporting GRT-heritage learners. The project ran for approximately 6 weeks and culminated in an award ceremony which saw each of the readers receive a certificate and a book voucher; the University of Sussex also donated over a hundred pounds worth of books to the school library, books that reflect traveller lives and culture. The school created a special environment in the library for the occasion, inviting the families of the children to this event. The certificates were handed over by FFT Outreach Lead Tommy Buck, a well-known and respected regular support and activist for the children in their home settings; Tommy’s awarding of the certificates bridged a gap between home and the State’s site of learning. The project lead for Brighton stated ‘

the significance for the children and families is massive. Watching the bookshelf be set up was brilliant - those kids can find themselves and their lives on a shelf they can access. They feel important and valued!’

During the project the school revised and enhanced its existing communication channels to the parents of this learning group. The project lead for Brighton stated,

‘I have never seen such a good turnout - it is so worth it and shows our families do want to celebrate their children’s work and engage in school life.’

The school lead was also enthused by the turn out. The initial feedback has suggested positive changes in attitudes toward reading, increased confidence, and a genuine excitement about school, amongst the young students. ‘You may not all see this, but the changes in the children's attitude towards school and reading, school and daily life have been amazing to witness’.

Joyously, one child ‘kept pestering’ their parents to ‘buy more books!’

The University of Sussex team will seek to extend this project over a longer and more sustained period in liaison with the other stakeholders; it will also seek to support other Primary schools with a significant traveller-heritage student intake.

The short-term impact was promising, and these initial findings will be supplemented with follow-up unstructured interviews and discussion both with the school and the learner’s parents. A project extension would also include reading metrics, the pilot project run by the Hants EMTAS Team suggest a potential reading improvement by 3 years. Chris Derbyshire, May '23

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