Bristol sets sights on reading volunteers for every child who needs one: Bristol sets sights on reading volunteers for every child who needs one

29 Aug 2018

Education, Learning and Skills

Bristol sets sights on reading volunteers for every child who needs one

Hundreds of primary school pupils could benefit from extra support with their reading as a new search for more volunteers to help out in schools is launched.

Hundreds of primary school pupils could benefit from extra support with their reading as a new search for more volunteers to help out in schools is launched.

The appeal is run by Bristol’s Reading in Schools Consortium*, a partnership organised by the council which brings together different organisations who all recruit volunteers to read in schools.

Last term over 250 people from all across the city volunteered in 50 schools, but now sights are being set even higher. Bristol’s Mayor Marvin Rees wants to make sure there’s a reading volunteer for every child who needs one and that means 300 additional volunteers are needed.

New training sessions for volunteers interested in taking part will be held in central locations throughout the autumn on Thursday 6 September, Thursday 25 October and Wednesday 28 November and cover everything from helping children read for enjoyment to assessing a child’s progress in learning to read. Training sessions are also being held throughout next year.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “If a child can’t read well when they leave primary school it can have a big impact on that individual’s life, so this reading programme is about giving pupils an extra boost. This approach has been proven to work and is going from strength to strength so I hope that with the help of local people we’ll soon reach our target of having a volunteer for every child in need of a little extra support. Our Learning City Partnership Board has made reading a priority for the coming year. Building on the strong foundations of the Reading Recovery Programme and Open the Door for Reading, we aim to create a city where every child’s a reader.”

Support is targeted at schools most in need or without easy access to volunteers.

Dominic Murphy, volunteer programme coordinator, said: “Our volunteers play a huge role in improving not only children’s reading, but their confidence and how they express themselves. It’s important to remember that reading practice shouldn’t end in the classroom and we need families and carers to be encouraging children to read at home too. Reading is one of the most important gifts you can give a child as it opens so many doors.”

Volunteers are recruited and trained to deliver ten sessions of reading support, working with two 6-7 year olds each week. Evidence shows that children tend to make around six month’s improvement within the ten week period.

For more information and to register interest visit: or send an email to

Sandra, RSVP volunteer
Sandra, RSVP volunteer

Sandra’s story:   

Sandra is a reading volunteer with RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme). She said: “I first started over seven years ago and enjoyed it so much that I now volunteer in two schools – Blaise Junior and Broomhill Juniors. I got involved because I have always loved reading and I used to enjoy reading with my children when they were young. I feel strongly that learning to read is vital for all children, and I thought I could be of help.

“It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to see the children making progress. I also love it when children I have helped in earlier years still come up to say hello and tell me how they are doing. It is good to have the time to get to know children individually. They all like to read in their own way; some just want to read for pleasure, and some are keen to work their way through the reading scheme as quickly as possible. As a volunteer, I am able to follow their lead. I want them to feel important and I want them to enjoy having a bit of individual, and non - pressured, attention. In my experience all the children want to do well, and it is very gratifying to see them improving and knowing that I have helped in my own gentle way.”  

The headmaster at Broomhill school, Colin Thompson, obviously has a very high opinion of Sandra's contribution. He said: "Sandra has made such a difference helping hundreds of our struggling readers to find enjoyment and success in their reading. The children have got to know her well and look forward to the time they have with her. I cannot over-exaggerate the impact her regular support has."

For more information about RSVP visit:


James’ story:

James Sterling is a Bristol City Council employee who volunteered with the programme in St Pius X School. He said: “I decided to volunteer after hearing about the link between poor literacy and lower quality of life, which got me thinking about what I would have missed out on if I hadn’t been able to read well as a child.  

“I was a little apprehensive to be going back into a school environment, but I received some really good training to prepare me for what to expect. The school liaisons were really supportive, which helped to get me and the other volunteers settled in to the schools.

“The children I worked with through the programme had a good grasp of reading techniques but struggle a lot with comprehension. This meant that that though they are able to read, they often didn’t understand what the stories were about. Throughout the 10 weeks I noticed an improvement in their ability to understand and remember the books that we were working through. 

“I’d recommend the programme to anyone as the experience has been hugely rewarding.  It has been completely different to my day job, so it was refreshing to do something outside of my normal routine. It really is amazing what you can achieve with just one hour a week.”


*Bristol Reading Consortium is made up of representatives from Ablaze, Alive, Beanstalk, Bristol Ageing Better, Bristol City Council, City of Bristol College, Jacari, RSVP West, University of Bristol and University of the West of England. 

About Bristol Learning City:

Bristol is England’s first UNESCO Learning City – part of a world-wide network that champions learning as a way to transform lives, communities, organisations and cities.

In 2017, Bristol received the UNESCO Learning City Award given to cities that have demonstrated significant progress in their Learning City development. 

Bristol Learning City is overseen by a Partnership Board of influential city leaders. Building on existing good practice, Learning City partners are committed to creating and promoting learning opportunities for everyone, of all ages and from all communities, in all parts of the city – encouraging everyone to be proud to learn throughout their lives.   

A number of Learning City priorities have recently been agreed for Bristol by the Partnership Board. Education partners will work together to improve: children’s literacy, outcomes for children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND), school attendance, and pathways for young people into further/higher education and employment.  

For more information visit @BristolLearning