A few years ago Tim Redgrave, then the deputy head at Ysgol Esgob Morgan Juniors in St Asaph, Denbighshire, brought his Y6 class to St Asaph Library to hear me give a talk as part of Denbighshire Libraries Book Week. I must have been cooking on gas that day because I made a huge impression, not only on the children, but also on Tim. He never forgot the impact the visit had.
Towards the end of last year (2010), I received an email from Tim, now headteacher at the school, telling me he’d had this idea for promoting and nurturing a love of reading. How about every school having a patron of reading? He wanted to know if I thought that it was a good idea and if so, would I be his school’s first patron? Of course I said yes. What an honour!
What is a patron of reading?
A patron of reading is a school’s special, designated children’s author with whom the school forms a personal attachment. The author might be a writer of fiction, a writer of non-fiction, a poet, storyteller or an illustrator. In our case, tenure lasts for three years but it’s up to the individuals involved. At the end of three years, the school could appoint a new patron, perhaps from a different specialist background.
What does a patron of reading do?
Other schools might have their own ideas about what a patron of reading does; that’s the beauty of it. The title is flexible to suit each author and each school. This is what I did in my first year as patron:
- Visited the school three times
- Initiated the Summer Reading Challenge trophy.
- Wrote a ‘newsletter’ once a term about what I’d been up to, books I’d read etc.
- Designated space on my website for staff, pupils and parents to leave comments (see below)
- I donated a copy of my new book to the school library.
- I wrote to individual pupils who did something outstanding in terms of reading; for example when they won a prize or made amazing progress in their reading.
- Worked with a group of reluctant readers on a short play (The Boy Who Wouldn’t Read) I wrote especially for them. The group gave me useful feedback and auditioned classmates for parts in the play. I still use the play when I go on school visits. Download it here from the National Literacy Trust’s website.
- I shared new ideas I heard about regarding reading, books and libraries, with the staff. Books included Malorie Blackman’s Cloud Busting (recommended to me by Mrs Fowkes) and Gill Lewis’s Sky Hawk (recommended by Mrs Ritchie).
What does the school do?
So far Ysgol Esgob Morgan has:
- Booked me for school visits.
- Put a link to my blog and information about the patron of reading on the school website and in school newsletters.
- Had a display about me, my writing and my books, in the school library.
- Sent me fabulous poems some of the classes have written.
- Had a fun Book Quiz that included all the governers, TAs and staff as well as pupils.
- Responded to my blogs (responses are from parents, too. It’s important to include them in this).
- Promoted the patron of reading idea in the Times Educational Supplement and on Reading Zone
- Used social networking sites such as Twitter to spread the word about the role.
- Had a visit from the then Wales Minister for Education and Skills, Leighton Andrews, to look at the scheme. This was televised on both BBC and ITV Wales News channels (11 January 2013).
- Bought books I’ve recommended for their library and classroom
What impact has it had on the school?
The patron of reading idea has:
- Sparked extra interest in reading generally throughout the school.
- Provided teachers with an added dimension when encouraging reading for pleasure.
- Given pupils an extra incentive to join in with schemes such as the Summer Reading Challenge In 2012 the school had 100% participation – the first in England and Wales, according to Miranda McKearney, CEO of the reading Agency (to be fair the school already had a high participation rate because of the amazing input from Denbighshire Library Service – the cup just gave them that final push towards glory!)
- Inspired parents and made them feel included e.g by submitting comments on my blog and writing poetry with their children at home.
- Boosted the quality of creative writing – even though I haven’t done any creative writing with them as such. Writing produced after my visit in May was described by Tim in the Times Educational Supplement (15th June 2012) as ‘phenomenal.’
- It has been recognised by inspectors that ‘… as a result of this programme pupils engage in purposeful reading and writing experiences with a professional author. This has improved pupils’ interest in and standards in reading.’ – Estyn April 2013
What is the difference between a Patron of Reading and, say the ‘Adopt an Author’ scheme?
The patron of reading is there to support the school and school’s librarian (if it has one) in creating a buzz about books. Everything is book and reading related; book quizzes, reviews, discussions, plays, poetry bashes, library visits etc. Schools who ‘adopt’ an author usually include creative writing. Also ‘adoption’ is more long-term. The patron of reading is a 3-year tenure to allow schools to have a variety of patrons and to allow patrons to have a variety of schools.
Choosing your patron:
Any school thinking of inviting an author(or poet, illustrator, journalist, storyteller) to be their patron of reading should consider having one with whom there is already a connection. The author doesn’t necessarily have to be local but should ideally be someone the school has already met. It should also be someone for whom the position means something. Tim and I both felt this was important. For me it’s a real honour; I feel cherished and proud to have been selected.
The patron should be professional and have a back list of traditionally published material (not be self-published and/or exclusively in e-book format). To get the most from the role, the school needs someone who is not necessarily ‘famous’ but has an established profile, a good track record of school visits and an up-to-date CRB check. An easy-to-navigate website the school can access is also a bonus. However, if a school has links with a newly published author/poet and feels they’re the right ‘fit’ for them, then that’s perfectly acceptable. Go to the Patron of Reading website for a list of authors available and more details about the scheme.
Financial cost to the school
The school would be expected to pay for any visit the POR makes in the usual way. A visit at least once a year is advisable so each class builds up a relationship with the patron. Rates vary but the Society of Authors guidelines can be found here. There should be little additional cost unless you host Skype sessions on top of the visits. It is important to discuss all this with the patron beforehand so misunderstandings don’t occur.
How do I find a patron of reading for my school?
If you are interested in the initiative but have never had an author in your school, try your local Schools’ Library Association or go to websites such as Authors Aloud UK and Scattered Authors’ Society.
A note of caution: Schools should beware of making unrealistic demands of the patron. Sending 200 stories and expecting the author to comment on them individually is beyond the call of duty. Remember, the emphasis is on reading. Likewise, the patron shouldn’t expect their books to have exclusive rights over other authors. It is advisable all parties meet with each other first and discuss how you all see the role. It’s crucial all the staff are involved.
The most important thing to remember is it should be fun for everyone.
Can I be a patron of reading at more than one school?
I’d advise against it as the idea is to make your school feel special. However I suppose if you were POR of two different types of school -i.e. a secondary and a primary, it would be OK. Being POR of a ‘family’ of schools might work too but I’d be cautious about the extra time having more than one school would take. My gut instinct is a no.
Does being patron of a school mean I can’t visit other schools?
No. School visits are entirely separate from the POR role. By the same token, your POR school can obviously have other creative practitioners visit them.
I’d like to be a patron at a certain school but they haven’t asked me. Shall I approach them?
If you have a good relationship with the school, why not? The initiative is fairly new and they might not know about the idea. However, the central thrust of the scheme is that it’s the school who should select their author/illustrator etc.
A school has approached me but I don’t really feel it’s the right one for me
What are your reasons for turning down the school? Geographical? Lack of time? Bad vibes? If you feel you’d be undervalued or swamped then say no – this is, after all, a purely voluntary initiative and your time is precious. There’s no point agreeing to something you can’t commit to – it isn’t fair on you or the school. If you are hesitating because you were hoping for a ‘better’ school you’re on dodgier ground. If the school have approached you for the right reasons – i.e. they would value your input and they love your work – then that’s a compliment, isn’t it? You can always put yourself forward for the preferred school next time round.
Will I be paid?
The role doesn’t come with any remuneration as such – it’s purely voluntary. However, you should charge your usual fee for any visits you make to the school and any out of pocket expenses. Skype calls might also be charged for as they use up writing time. Personally I haven’t charged my school for postage, phone calls, books I donate, the cost of setting up an exclusive link on my website or responding to children’s questions. I do claim it all back against tax though.
What about my time? How much will the role eat into my writing?
It’s like anything else writers do outside their actual writing – it all depends how much or little you want to commit. What seems to happen at Ysgol Esgob Morgan is there’s a flurry of activity before and after the visit then it goes quiet for weeks. In between time there may be tweets and replies to children on the blog but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. If I were asked to do something I considered beyond my remit or didn’t have time to undertake, I’d say so.
Spreading the word
There are now over 100 Patrons of Reading in Great Britain including Michaela Morgan, Nicola Morgan, Joe Craig, Catherine MacPhail, John Dougherty and the 2Steves. Many more writers have stepped forward. If you’d like more information about the patron of reading movement go to the Patron of Reading website.
Tim Redgrave proudly shows off his Patrons of Reading
I was Patron of reading at Ysgol Esgob Morgan for four years and thoroughly enjoyed the role. The 2 Steves took over from me in September 2015 and if they have half the fun I had in sharing my love of books and reading with the pupils there, they’re in for a great time.