A report by Sarah Miller, Paul Connolly and Lisa Maguire, commissioned by the Centre for Effective Education, Queen’s University Belfast
The research reported here follows from the 2009 Ten Year Review of ‘Time to Read’, a programme involving employee volunteers going on a regular basis into Northern Ireland primary schools to hear children read. That study showed that ‘Time to Read’ has a positive effect in terms of increasing the children’s future aspirations but was unable to find quantitative evidence of improving other tested outcomes: children’s self-esteem, their enjoyment of education or their reading skills. Applying a different methodology, this 2011 study, based on a randomised controlled trial involving 512 children from 50 schools across Northern Ireland, gives clear evidence that the ‘Time to Read’ programme is effective in improving a number of ‘foundational’ reading outcomes for children in the intervention group, compared here to the control group:
- 6 percentile point improvement in decoding skills;
- 9 percentile point improvement in reading rate;
- 6 percentile point improvement in reading fluency.
These results apply regardless of gender, socio-economic status and previous reading abilities.
The evaluation was unable to show any significant of the programme on ‘higher’ reading skills, particularly comprehension, although it is noted that comprehension development is dependent on foundational skills such as decoding.
No evidence was found of any differences between the intervention group and control group in relation to the three non-reading outcomes tested: enjoyment of reading, confidence and aspirations for the future. Regarding future aspirations, a similar positive effect to that found in the original study was affirmed, if not at a statistically significant, and raising aspiration is thus recommended for consideration as a secondary outcome, having much potential to improve attainment in later life. However, the trial did show that pupil enjoyment and reading fluency increase with greater programme intensity, and the authors recommend maintaining two 30-minute sessions of contact time per week as a minimum. Reading skills and enjoyment of reading were shown in this evaluation to be unrelated, but further research is called for to test the hypothesis that increased skills could lead to greater enjoyment.
The authors conclude that their findings are consistent with a number of internationally-conducted systematic reviews of other mentoring programmes, and make a significant contribution to this evidence base as one of the largest trials of volunteer mentoring using such a robust methodology.