The Patron of Reading scheme - a Patron's view

The Patron of Reading scheme was first developed by Tim Redgrave, Head Teacher at Ysgol Esgob Morgan in Wales. He took his Year 6 class to a talk by author Helena Pielichaty and the enthusiasm she inspired gave him a brilliant idea. What better way to nurture a love of books and reading in a school than to create a special bond between the pupils and one chosen author?

I was impressed by the range of ideas Katrina had for projects I could be involved in

Helena became the first Patron of Reading at Ysgol Esgob Morgan, and Tim set up a page on his school website calling for schools and authors across the UK to join in this exciting new initiative. Before long there were enough responses to create a dedicated website, and to date over 150 schools have been matched with their own Patron of Reading.

I learned of the scheme early on and was quick to sign up. In the spring of 2013 I was contacted by Katrina Lucas, a teacher at Comely Park Primary School in Falkirk. It was clear from her initial email that I would have an enthusiastic and creative person committed to the scheme and to supporting me in my role as Patron of Reading. Katrina and I met to discuss how the partnership between author and school would work, and I was impressed by the range of ideas she had for projects I could be involved in.

The role of Patron is a voluntary one, and so an understanding must first be reached on how much time the chosen Patron can give the school. Author visits and travel expenses are paid, but it's up to the author to establish how much time he or she puts into other activities for the school (judging competitions, posting news about events, communicating with pupils and staff, developing project ideas and so on).

I was very keen to get involved, and in the first year was invited to take part in a range of activities:

June Assembly/School Makar: I was presented to the entire school body as the new Patron of Reading and given the honour of announcing the winner of the School Makar competition. In anticipation of this announcement I had been given a selection of the finalists' poems and had to choose the winner. I presented the winning pupil with a special notebook and pen to use as Makar.

Patron of Reading Blog: I have a Wordpress blog for young readers, and decided it would be valuable to add a Patron of Reading page where I could post news about Comely Park School and our joint projects. The blog features all the poems of the first School Makar, posts about my various visits and a Summer Reading Challenge page. I can also communicate with teachers and pupils on the blog via the comments, and now have some keen Comely Park pen pals!

SBT-Sponsored Big Book Bash: Katrina Lucas worked with the P4 classes to develop two bilingual books (in English and Scots) based on two characters they came up with, Gallus the crow and Hooley the owl. Once they had done some detailed character development, I was invited to give a "brainstorming" session with both P4 classes to work up story ideas. 

The key to success for any Patron of Reading is having a committed member of staff at the school who has a clear vision of the role you can play as Patron.

Big Book Bash Writing Competition: The school also held a writing competition and I was asked to read 25 stories from P2 to P6 and choose a winner from each year. I gave detailed feedback on each story (sent by email to Katrina who shared it with the children.)

Big Book Bash Book Launch: The P4 classes invited parents, teachers and local dignitaries to a launch in November of the two Gallus and Hooley books. I attended the launch and blogged about it on my Patron of Reading page.

Creative Writing Challenge: Following my brainstorming visit, one of the P4 pupils challenged me to write a story. The protagonist was to be a potato, so I took up this unusual challenge and wrote a rhyming story for the class to illustrate. Some time later I submitted the potato story to a publisher, and now One Potato is a Collins Big Cat book. It was a huge pleasure to give that pupil a copy of the book he inspired me to write!

Memories of the '60s: In the spring of 2014 I was invited to speak to the P1 and P2 classes about the books and toys I remember from my childhood. I took pictures of 1960s toys and games to show them, and my dog-eared copy of the book I loved as a child, Gabrielle and Selena. The children all wanted to take a turn reading from the Dr Seuss book I brought to share with them, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Later I posted When I was a kid on my blog to record the visit.

Patron of Reading Promotion: Katrina Lucas spent some time seconded to Education Scotland as Scots Language Co-ordinator, and she was keen to encourage Scots writers to join the Patron of Reading scheme. She asked me to email several Scots Language authors sharing my experiences of being a Patron, which I was happy to do. 

Book Donations: At the beginning of my tenure as Patron of Reading I donated copies of all my picture books to the school library, and I top up this collection whenever I have a new book published.

The key to success for any Patron of Reading is having a committed member of staff at the school who has a clear vision of the role you can play as Patron. Before embarking on a stint as Patron of Reading, it is crucial to meet with that person and establish the expectations on both sides. 

Particularly important is to determine the amount of time you are able to devote to the role. Most schools have limited funds for author visits, so the demands on your time will likely amount to no more than two or three visits per year. As for the other aspects of a Patron's role, it is up to you to decide how much you want to take on. 

You can also set out how you would like to focus your energies, and which year groups you would most like to reach. In the end it remains a partnership which requires negotiation and give-and-take on both sides. If there is goodwill and a commitment to work together for the good of the school, your informal discussions at the outset and regular communication thereafter will ensure that your tenure as Patron of Reading will be a rewarding experience. 

My three years as Comely Park Patron of Reading have been a very positive experience, and I hope to continue for at least another year. The special relationship that develops between a school and its Patron can be hugely beneficial for everyone involved: pupils are inspired to read, write and illustrate stories for pleasure; teachers can draw upon the Patron's professional experience to enrich their classes; and the Patron benefits greatly from the interaction with readers and the positive feedback on his or her own work.

For a teacher's perspective on the Patron of Reading scheme, check out this blog by Katrina Lucas!