A report by Michael Arlow, commissioned by Business in the Community
The Time to Read programme recruits volunteers from business to give children from deprived backgrounds one-to-one help with literacy skills. This review uses several evaluations and surveys to assess whether the programme has made a contribution to the development of children. The report brings together conclusions from four reviews conducted since 2003:
- Deloitte and Touche Evaluation (2003): Survey of 93 ‘Time to Read’ volunteers and the 36 participating primary schools.
- Focus Group Evaluation (2006): data collected from focus groups, interviews, school visits and written feedback from parents and volunteers.
- The Principals’ Perspective (2008): A Business in the Community survey of 48 Principals face to face or by telephone.
- Queen’s University Belfast Evaluation (2009): The evaluation involved 734 children from 50 schools across Northern Ireland, with 360 in the intervention group and 374 in the control group. It also includes focus groups and qualitative interviews with programme developers, principals, mentors and children.
The reviews found that Time to Read had been well accepted in schools and was considered to be a “worthwhile project”. Children enjoyed the programme and it increased their willingness and enthusiasm to read, their levels of self-confidence and reading ability. When volunteers were asked about Time to Read, 100% of the responding volunteers said that participating children showed an increased understanding when reading and 87% said children would read unsupported more often. Other key findings of the review were that 98% of headteachers would recommend the programme to other schools and more than three quarters (77%) wanted more volunteers. The review argues that the programme is highly cost-effective as it does not charge schools or education authorities for the service. However, research carried out by the Queens University Belfast, using a control group, could not find evidence of the programme increasing the actual reading level of the children participating. The report states that it would be wrong to interpret these findings as implying that Time to Read is not effective, and that there is evidence to suggest that researchers “may have been looking in the wrong place”.