We have had a Patron of Reading in the school since 2015 when Jon Mayhew started his two year tenure. The Patron scheme is very easy to run within a school, partly because there is no set way of doing things and you can work with the author to decide on what you both want to achieve. The basic premise is that you work with an author for a period of 1 or 2 years to promote reading in the school. You should be aiming to pay for at least one full day’s visit within that year, but you may be able to afford more and I have found that under this scheme, authors are wonderful at doing extra things in their own time, e.g. setting competitions, making videos to play in assemblies etc. I have needed to make sure I allocate time to organising events and keeping on top of what we are doing (some authors need more of a push than others!), but the rewards are well worth the effort. It is definitely worth having a frank conversation at the start where expectations are made clear (on both sides) and you get an understanding for how the other person works.
Jon was a wonderful Patron, but, as was appropriate at the time, most of his work was focused on the Senior School. When Non Pratt took over in 2017, we were at a stage when we were looking to develop the links with the Infant and Junior sections of the school and I felt that our Patron of Reading should be part of this development.
Non had the brilliant idea of creating ‘Book Bingo’ and she came up with a different bingo grid for each year group from Reception to Year 6. Reception pupils had categories such as ‘A story with a wolf in it’ and ‘A book with a yellow cover’ whereas the categories for Year 6 pupils included some that were more challenging such as ‘A book written by a Poet Laureate’ and ‘A re-telling of a fairytale or myth’. Pupils were given the bingo sheets to take home, along with a letter explaining the initiative to their parents. I then arranged times with the Infant and Junior Schools to award prizes to pupils who completed lines on their bingo grids.
Running this scheme has meant that I have spent a lot of money on party bag fillers, as pupils have loved choosing prizes such as small bottles of bubbles, novelty erasers, stickers, bouncy balls etc. These are reasonably cheap to purchase and I have found that the engagement with the activity has made the cost to the library budget entirely justifiable. Any pupils who fully completed their Bingo grid by the end of term were put into a draw to win a book. Non was able to ask her publishers (Walker, MacMillan and Abrams) for donations for these prizes. The prizes were awarded in an end of term assembly where all the Infants and Juniors got together.
For the first year, we ran the Bingo scheme twice (with different grids) – once in the Autumn term and then in the Spring term. However, we found that the engagement was much lower in the second term, partly because of the repetition, but also because the Spring term was much shorter and much busier. Therefore, in discussion with the teachers and the Junior School librarian, we agreed that just running it in the Autumn term was the best option. This has definitely proved to be the right decision as the enthusiasm was very high in 2018 and is again this year.
When Non Pratt handed over to Mike Revell as our new Patron of Reading this year, she very kindly passed on her idea and templates and Mike has created new categories for all the year groups involved. Otherwise the scheme is running in exactly the same way, although Mike is hoping to arrange signed books for the winners of the draw just before Christmas. Also, as Mike is more local, we should be able to arrange for him to come in to school to award these prizes, whereas we weren’t able to coincide with Non’s visits (although she did manage a Skype chat with the Infants on one occasion).
I have found running this scheme to be a joyful experience. I visit the Infants assembly each week and have the pleasure of seeing so many children enthused about reading. I am also often surrounded by Junior School pupils during a break time in their library, as they bring me their sheets and others gather round to see what they have been reading and what prizes they are getting. This has not only meant that pupils are reading (and getting excited about it), but that I have been able to start building relationships with the very youngest pupils in the school, something that can only help develop library use and engagement when they come up to the Senior School. During the first week of term this year, I walked past a group of Year 3 pupils in the dining hall, and heard the shout of ‘It’s the librarian!’, which led to us having a lovely chat about how they were settling into the Junior School and what they were reading. Without Book Bingo and the regular visits to the Infants, this connection would not have happened.
I am incredibly grateful to Non Pratt and Mike Revell for spending so much of their own time in coming up with the interesting and challenging categories for the sheets. This shows how much the Patron of Reading role matters to the authors involved and how much they genuinely want to encourage reading for pleasure in the schools they work with. I am also very grateful to the Infant school teachers and teaching assistants, who are wonderful at reminding pupils to bring their sheets in every week and bringing them to the assemblies for me. Mrs Ainsworth and Mrs Callaghan, the Infant school Headteacher and Deputy Headteacher, are incredibly patient in helping the hordes of pupils choose prizes during the assembly too. However, one of the benefits of this scheme is that it is a home activity, so it increases parental involvement but I don’t feel that I am asking teachers to do too much. In fact, in the Junior School, other than giving out the sheets and perhaps an occasional reminder/encouraging chat, the teachers don’t need to do any extra work.
I fully believe that Book Bingo has been a very successful initiative in developing the idea of reading as a pleasurable activity, increasing parental involvement with reading for pleasure and helping to develop a positive view of me, our Patrons of Reading and of the library in general.
Written by Ros Harding
Head Librarian and Archivist
The Kings School, Chester
SLA School Librarian of the year 2019
More information on The Patron of Reading Scheme can be found here