ABC to Read calls on schools to return volunteers to the classroom

Lani Charlwood
Primary interest
Families and Parenting

Berkshire reading charity ABC to Read is calling on local schools to allow volunteers to return to the classroom following the interruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Only 70% of the schools that previously used ABC to Read mentors to support children struggling with their reading have reinstated those volunteers, despite government guidelines clearly stating that such support is allowed. The charity is urging all local primary schools to adhere to government guidance and bring their trained volunteer mentors back into the classroom so that they can give one-to-one support to the children who need it most. It is also encouraging new schools to come forward to take up volunteers to help address the reading gap caused by Covid-19.

Marcia Rowlinson, ABC to Read CEO, said: “It is absolutely crucial that schools return our volunteers to the classroom so that those already struggling with their reading don’t fall further behind and have access to the support they are entitled to. We need to address the education gap caused by COVID-19, to improve the future prospects of our local youngsters. Our volunteers are a critical part of the recovery process at this difficult time, bridging that gap and inspiring a love of reading.”

The charity has recently received another grant from Berkshire Community Foundation (BCF) to address the education gap caused by COVID-19. This is in addition to numerous previous grants awarded by the Foundation in recognition of their ongoing support of the charity.

Addressing literacy in primary school aged children is essential to improving their future opportunities. One in four children left primary school in 2019 unable to read to the required standard and school closures caused by the Covid crisis will almost certainly have made this statistic worse. Unemployed adults are twice as likely to have weak literacy skills as those in full-time employment, and low levels of literacy cost the UK an estimated £81 billion a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending, impacting in ‘the success of the economy as a whole’. Covid has only accentuated these trends.

Illiteracy persists in the UK today, so the support of one-to-one ABC to Read volunteer mentors is pivotal to help turn around the prospects of Berkshire children, particularly in this time of catch-up learning. Whilst there are some very affluent areas in Berkshire where children are exceeding expectations, there are also some deprived areas such as Central Reading. Ominously, the National Education Union 2018 found that amongst a sample of Berkshire school heads and staff, 87% say poverty is having a significant effect on learning, with numbers particularly high at primary schools in Reading and Slough.

On average, 500 children are encouraged and mentored by an ABC to Read volunteer every year, with 12,000 hours invested into improving not only their reading ability but their enjoyment of the pastime as well as their general attitudes and confidence.

With at least 40 vacancies that could be filled with more volunteers and increasing numbers of children who need catch-up support as schools have reopened, ABC to Read are actively looking for new volunteers to take part in training. The next training will be held online on 2 February 2022.

Schools that are in need of additional reading support are also being actively encouraged to sign up for ABC to Read mentors. For more information about training days or joining the scheme as a school or volunteer mentor, contact