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Learning valuable lessons

An award-winning project from the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), in association with the University of Sheffield, is having a huge impact on families in disadvantaged areas of Sheffield and Oldham, and paving the way for the scheme to roll out to other parts of the UK.

The Making it REAL (Raising Early Achievement in Literacy) Lottery funded project targeted three and four-year-olds from areas of Sheffield and Oldham most in need of extra support in early language and literacy, which they received from specially trained teachers and practitioners.  Making it REAL empowered parents to have the confidence to help their children to enjoy early reading, writing, and storytelling through home visits and group events.  Eighteen children’s centres and schools took part in the three-year scheme, reaching more than 750 children and parents and an estimated 150 younger siblings and other family members.  As well as preparing children for school, the scheme has helped parents to have the confidence to speak with teachers and other professionals about their child’s progress.

Pat, a Children’s Centre Teacher, worked with four-year-old Samim for a year during the project, introducing the family to various games, rhymes and songs that could all help with early literacy development.  “Samim’s Mum didn’t know what to do with the children to help them learn and was thrilled with the activities I was able to introduce them to.  For example, I took an assortment of boxes/junk round and together we made a railway station - Samim used single words to make choices and he made signs for the station with his Mum.”  The impact on Samim and his family has been palpable, Pat explains.  “His school teacher is pleased with his increased interaction – he is talking to staff and chatting with other children.  His Mum is doing a Lifelong Learning course at college and wants to do a Classroom Assistant course.”

Helen Wheeler, Principal Officer, NCB, concludes from parental feedback that parents’ relationships with their children have improved and they have developed more confidence and knowledge in how to help their children learn at home in the future.  “The families show real commitment to maintain active involvement with their children, saying, for example, that they will keep going to the library to read regularly with all their children.

Perhaps the most encouraging statistic is this.  At the beginning of the project, children were asked to name a favourite book – 31% could do this - by the end, 84% could name their favourite book.  And the number of children who read a book on most days jumped from 20% to 67% in the second year of the project. It was by improving the life chances of young children in this way, especially amongst disadvantaged and hard-to-reach communities, that helped REAL win the Children & Young People Early Years Award in 2012.

The children involved in Making it REAL are all now in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 classes in primary school. Teachers report how much more involved and focused the children are; they have a real chance to succeed and build confidence as learners. Oldham has invested in more REAL developments since the end of the project in September 2012 in areas of low educational attainment and schools and centres in Sheffield are sustaining REAL home visits and events.
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