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13th December 2022

A Bookmark biography: The charity that helps children read

As well as providing all the information you need to know about who Bookmark are, what they do and how you can get involved, the Mancunion interviews Bookmark’s Anna Pickles to ask about all the extra info, plus her favourite book
A Bookmark biography: The charity that helps children read
Photo: bookmark.charity @ flickr

Bookmark is a tech-led literacy charity supporting disadvantaged primary school children to give them a fairer chance in life. The aim? To have every child reading.

Currently, one in four children leave primary school unable to read well. These children are more likely to experience poverty, face unemployment, and have a lower life expectancy.

At Bookmark, they improve children’s reading attainment, confidence, and enjoyment through their flexible, volunteer-led programme. Reading sessions take place online via their secure platform, supporting children nationwideFor the children who need Bookmark, they are changing their story. 

Become a volunteer

As a volunteer at Bookmark, you will be helping 5 – 9-year-olds learn to read, developing their skills and confidence. During Bookmark’s 30-minute sessions, you’ll read together, play games, and see your reader progress. Twice a week, over six weeks, children gain essential skills with sessions being catered to their interests. Reading becomes fun as Bookmark’s readers grow more confident in the classroom and at home.

As a volunteer, you can book your programme through the Bookmark app and select sessions at times that work with your schedule.  You can apply by heading to www.bookmarkreading.org without any past experience needed.

If you have any questions, email [email protected]

In conversation with Anna Pickles, Application Support Executive at Bookmark Reading

One in four children in the UK leave primary school unable to read confidently. Is there any particular reason for this?

It’s varied – there are lots of reasons it could be, making it challenging to pin down. One is that for many years schools have had funding issues and their priorities have changed. But, it’s also what happens outside of schools. So many children just won’t have that access to resources. Parents also may not be able to provide their children with the early years of education [due to lack of resources] that more privileged children have.

Bookmark doesn’t focus on that as much, we focus on what we personally can do. We know that providing that one-to-one help can be really impactful, creating very much a non–judgmental space trying to improve things.

Is there anything that from the perspective of a charity or a policy-maker you would change particularly or is it just a case of more funding for the education system?

I think that funding is a big one. In terms of other policies, I’m not sure.

Something interesting that has come up is the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” We need to move beyond the education system and see what we can do as a whole community. We’ve seen the value of that as more schools have come to us asking for our help, asking for that external help. There’s only so much schools can do.

The pandemic created a big setback for children in education.  What effects did you see as a charity?

Bookmark started off just running face-to-face sessions in London. The charity adapted quickly to online sessions during the pandemic and they’ve worked really well. However, the attainment gap has widened in all subjects, not just reading.

The attainment gap is now at or above 2012 levels. Prior to 2012, the gap was decreasing.

Up to KS2, the expected literary standard fell from 75% to 67%. For disadvantaged pupils, the standard fell more than double compared to their peers. That’s an example of reading where the pandemics really disadvantaged pupils who were already disadvantaged.

Why is it so important for children to be able to read?

Reading is something that people take for granted; it’s not just about reading books. When you’re younger it’s reading a road sign or birthday card, and when you grow up, it’s things like reading the back of your medication or being able to read a housing contract in full. It’s just a crucial skill.

We know that there is a correlation between low literacy levels and higher rates of unemployment and poverty.  One in five of the children that leave primary school below the expected reading level go on to achieve a pass at GCSE English. That shows the knock-on effect reading can have on their lives and education.

What’s the best way to improve your reading skills?

It’s to have fun, to be engaged in the book, and to foster a love of reading. A key aspect is to ensure the reading session is child-led, letting them explore and learn about their interests. Talk about the pictures in the book and have fun – that’ll reflect in the child’s reading.

How does Bookmark support volunteers or readers who are struggling?

First, if the sessions are completely going wrong and you’re not getting any connection with the child, then you don’t have to complete the full program. You can always talk to Bookmark or the school. We will arrange for someone else to take over if needed.

There are a few behavioural tips in the training and there will also always be a teacher in the room with the child. We always try to have empathy for a child – there’s usually a reason they’re distracted or rude. Maybe something has come up that day, or they’re distracted by something in the room, or they’re bored with the book.

There’s no obligation for them just to read for the whole session. You can do games and activities, you can read to them a bit. Improving literacy attainment is all about making reading a good experience for the child.

Is there anything people can do to help improve literacy skills in the UK?

In terms of what Bookmark does other than this program, we have two things. The charity does book pack donations to schools to help improve their libraries, we run a magazine called ‘your story corner’ catered to 5 – 9-year-olds, and we’re about to send about 80,000 copies off all around the country to give kids something different to read.

If Bookmark, isn’t for you we recommend getting in with your local primary school or library to start up a scheme with them. Other than that it’s just keeping up with national campaigns really for social mobility. I know recently the education alliance did a big report on what they’d suggest so yeah just keeping yourself up to date and educated.


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