Why more men are needed in Yorkshire to help children struggling with reading

Just a fifth of Beanstalk reading volunteers in Yorkshire are men, but the literacy charity is hoping to change that with a new campaign. Laura Drysdale reports.

With thousands of children across Yorkshire leaving primary school unable to read to an expected standard, the work of a national literacy charity in the region remains vitally important, 45 years after it was first founded.

Beanstalk volunteers provided one-to-one support to 13,500 children across England in the last school year, including in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Doncaster and Hull. But, with men making up fewer than a fifth of volunteers in the region (19 per cent), the organisation is calling for more males to train as reading helpers.

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“It’s so important that children see men reading books, being caring and compassionate and showing emotion just as much as women,” says CEO Ginny Lunn. “Children need to see this balance, particularly in early education, and even more so for boys and girls who may be missing a male role model at home.

“The time our volunteers spend one-to-one with the children they support, talking about books and the range of characters and topics in the stories, is so important in helping create a window to the wider world.

The charity supports children aged three to 13 who lack essential language and reading skills to help them become more confident, passionate and able.

It hopes that its nationwide #BeanstalkMensMonth campaign throughout November will promote conversation around encouraging more positive male role models in to schools either as teachers, support staff, or volunteers, while raising awareness of the valuable contribution current male volunteers are making to children by sharing a love of books and stories with them.

“I have found it to be one of the best things I’ve ever done,” says Gareth Dempster, a reading helper in Bradford. “The children I work with look forward to seeing me and even jostle over who is going to go first. I get great feedback from the teaching staff and the children and I just love being able to pass on that love of reading. ”

In August, Education Minister Damian Hinds warned of the “scandal” of children arriving at school being unable to speak or read properly. “When you are behind from the start you rarely catch up,” he said. “Your peers don’t wait, the gap just widens. This has a huge impact on social mobility.”

He has set an ambition to halve the proportion of children who do not achieve at least expected levels in the ‘communication and language’ and ‘literacy’ areas of learning at the end of reception year by 2028 - and yesterday launched multi-million pound projects to help disadvantaged families to nurture their child’s early development at home.

Reading charity Beanstalk meanwhile provides support in primary schools and early years settings, helping youngsters struggling with the vital life-skill and aiming to transform life chances.

“Sharing books together creates opportunities for conversation and helps build a bond between the child and person they are reading with,” explains Mathew Tobin, a senior lecturer in English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes University. “That is why it’s so important to have men as well as women sharing books and stories.”

“As a reading helper with Beanstalk and a positive role model for children, you can not only change a life, you can actually save lives. The connections you make with these children provide so much more than reading support.

“By having someone they can look up to and be open and honest with, and by reading books together and relating to the characters, children can find their place in the world and know that it’s ok to be vulnerable and sensitive sometimes.”

For more information, visit www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk or call 0845 450 0301.