Do we expect our reading helpers to return to schools?

All of our reading helpers are volunteers that give their time freely, they are committed to their role and to the children they support. Some reading helpers will feel ready to return, some will be unsure, some will not be ready to return in the near future. We can’t ‘make’ our reading helpers return but will aim to address concerns to plan a safe resumption wherever possible.

We have produced written guidance to holding distanced reading sessions which can be found here and are currently hosting online back to school sessions with our support team with a follow up survey to ask the individual reading helper’s position. We are also collating questions and will be circulating a weekly FAQs document to provide a response to incoming queries.

For those ready to return, we ask that reading helpers make contact with their school to agree a suitable return date together. We are advising a return date during the week of 28th September although if reading helpers and schools want to arrange a sooner return date that is fine.

For those unsure about returning, we are allowing 4 weeks from the full reopening of schools to allow everyone to assess the impact of the reopening on the virus rate and will check in with our volunteers at this stage to see whether or not the reading helper is then ready to return.

For those not ready to return, we’ll be asking if they have a date during the autumn term when they may be ready to return and, if not, will ask them to stay linked in with our updates and let us know when they are ready to resume. Wherever possible we will seek to introduce a new reading helper to their school to provide support to children.

Do we expect schools to welcome reading helpers back?

We are aware that schools are largely keen for face to face reading sessions to resume but also that they are facing the logistical challenge of a full and safe return of all children to school following the government guidelines. We feel that the slight delay in welcoming reading helpers back will allow the new school routines to settle and embed.

The majority of schools either pay a nominal contribution to our service or have funding arrangements in place that cover this cost. We have already agreed and communicated a terms extension to our usual service delivery period to cover school up until the end of the summer term 2021. We also expect schools to be understanding as to the reason why we are slightly delaying our ‘mass resumption’ date for the new academic year.

If schools are not ready to welcome reading helpers back we ask that they make us aware of this no later than Monday 21st September. We do expect that in most cases a socially distanced resumption of sessions as set out in our guidance for reading helpers will be welcomed and beneficial for children who need additional support with their reading.

We expect schools to share any policies or guidance, applicable to visitors, they have put in place as a response to C-19. We expect all reading helpers to comply with measures put into place by the school to maintain a safe environment.

We’ll contact schools at the start of October to check that service has been resumed and aim to put contingency plans in place for any schools where this has not been possible due to their reading helper’s individual circumstances.

Will reading helpers be able to support the same children as previously and work with children in different ‘bubbles’?

Schools are the lead in implementing the government guidance, our understanding is that children are ‘bubbled’ but it is possible for adults to work across bubbles. Our recommendation would be for reading helpers to continue support for children who began sessions last year but know that this will not always be the right option in school. Ultimately it is the school’s decision as to which children they put reading support in place for. We are however, relaxing our usual guidance of children needing to stay with their reading helper for the full year as we know that a short term boost will be beneficial in many cases allowing support to be available to more children across the year.

Can schools provide a suitable reading space?

Reading helpers will need a suitable space to allow for distanced sessions as per the guidelines shared. We know that space is at a premium within schools but do expect schools to support our reading helpers to work in as safe a way as possible.

Are online reading sessions an option?

We have established guidance for hosting online reading sessions using video calling platforms and on screen reading material, this was trialled in the summer term. If a school and reading helper would like to work in this way there is guidance for reading helpers and schools here. If both the reading helper and school feel this may be a preferred option, we advise you to connect together to find a way of making this viable with necessary safeguarding measures in place. Our understanding is that most schools will prefer a resumption of in-person sessions but this may be a workable second choice option where that is not possible.

What about local lockdowns, quarantine restrictions and illness?

We are prepared for the generally anticipated situation of school’s fully reopening but there may be pockets of the country where a stricter local lockdown is enforced. If this does happen we will expect our reading helpers and schools to follow the official guidance for the location.

If reading helpers travel and return from a country where a quarantine period has been imposed we expect them to follow the quarantine advice and inform their school that they will miss the amount of sessions that period covers.

We expect reading helpers to be extra vigilant and not attend school if they have any possible symptoms of coronavirus letting their school know and self-isolating for the necessary period. We recommend use of the C-19 Covid symptom tracker app as a daily check on any symptoms.

All of these situations are out of our control and although may cause frustration they will be something we will need to accommodate to comply with government guidance.

Training for new volunteers

We are preparing new volunteers across the country. For obvious reasons, we have moved our training journey online. It is equivalent to our previous in-venue sessions, and remains a very high quality and interactive experience, adjusted for the online experience i.e. a mixture of individual learning and shorter trainer-led group sessions.

After training, people will join a support team led session to make sure everything is in place before we introduce a reading helper to a school, including all necessary safeguarding checks are undertaken.

We are training these new volunteers with a view to filling vacancies in existing schools and to provide cover where a reading helper is unable to, or not ready to return. If, after these options have been explored, we have - as we hope will be the case - a ‘surplus’ of reading helpers in a location we will be offering additional short term ‘boost’ support to schools, where funding commitments have been fulfilled, with no additional charge. We recognise that this is a unique time and want to help children who just need a 'nudge' to rediscover their reading after lockdown.

The move to online training has had the welcome side effect of releasing some of our training capacity. We will be continuing with our aim of connecting reading helpers around the country by holding online development sessions led by our trainers as well as more informal virtual meet ups hosted by our support team. We will add new dates to the schedule every 4-6 weeks as we can predict how much capacity is going to be available - our aim is to offer everyone a chance to join one before Christmas. We’ll also commit to continuing our monthly send of updates, tips and guidance to all reading helpers.

Thank you to all of our reading helpers and schools for your ongoing support we will get through this together!