Patron of Reading changeover

The Patron of Reading scheme, where schools 'adopt' an author for an agreed period as their 'patron of reading', is now well established. Here, school librarian Chris Routh describes a successful 'changeover' to a new patron of reading at her school, Leighton Park.

Chris writes: 'When I first heard about the idea of having a Patron of Reading (PoR), I could see that it would provide a great way to raise the profile of reading for pleasure at our school. We were in the process of reviewing our whole school approach to literacy and promoting reading for pleasure was high on my agenda. As soon as I'd decided to find a POR Gillian Cross's name immediately came to mind and I was delighted that she accepted our invitation. I can't believe that three years have passed since then and in June Gillian (literally) handed the baton on to our new PoR Julian Sedgwick.

Gillian proved to be a great fit for our school - she was wonderful in fact - but in retrospect I now realise that two visits per year from a patron wasn't quite enough. Thank you Gillian for doing much more on our behalf between the formal visits. Because she lives quite a way from us, each visit had to be carefully planned and sometimes involved an overnight stay. I can imagine that now Gillian is POR at her local primary school, she might be enjoying more flexibility and frequency of visits. Having said that, Julian also lives a fair distance away! However, he is keen to visit every term, subject to an agreement about fees(!), and I am hoping that this will allow us to build on what we have learnt from our first experience.

I do believe that the title of Patron of Reading only tells half the story, as the role is as much about inspiring writing as it is about promoting reading. Gillian's visits always involved writers' workshops (in pouring rain one time!); she regularly judged our annual creative writing challenge for incoming Y7s and was also one of two guest judges for a one-off writing competition for the Y9s from 12 local secondary schools. In addition, through her wonderful book After Tomorrow, she introduced us to Cord, a charity she is patron of and which we went on to fund raise for that year.

During one of our regular book weeks, Gillian gave a joint talk with Neil Packer, the brilliant illustrator of her retellings of The Odyssey and The Iliad. She was the guest speaker at an inaugural event about reading at KS3 attended by parents and students and championed our 125th anniversary Book Crossing project. Gillian was incredibly generous with her time and supportive of me on a personal level - our out-of-school planning meetings were inspirational and always great fun. I discovered that there are countless (sometimes unexpected) ways in which having a PoR can make an impact.

From the beginning, we had agreed that it would be a three year arrangement and during the second year I realised that I had already found Gillian's successor without even looking! Julian Sedgwick was speaking about graphic novels at a writing conference - he'd visited us before, so I'd had a chance to talk to him on a couple of occasions and was also aware of his family's Quaker background (Leighton Park is a Quaker school). I was delighted when he accepted the invitation and he seemed genuinely excited about the opportunity.

We held a wonderful 'handover' event, involving a special lunch for Gillian and Julian with members of staff, followed by an afternoon of farewells and welcomes with Y7 & 8s. One of our DT teachers made a beautiful PoR baton from a piece of oak reclaimed from the school's grounds, which Gillian ceremoniously handed on to Julian. Perfect!

So what now? We already have plans in place for the first year. In October Julian will be visiting us during Quaker Schools Week to talk about the book he's writing about conscientious objection and to run related writers' workshops with Y9s; he will be returning in March to reprise his talk about graphic novels; and in the summer will be introducing himself to the new Y7s and creating a haiku storm. We are also discussing other ideas and initiatives including the introduction of an annual Patron of Reading award.

My experience of having a Patron of Reading has been totally positive and worthwhile. A PoR provides a great role model and inspiration for the students they meet and work with. At Leighton Park, it has also helped to shape the library's contribution to promoting both reading AND writing. And on a more personal note, it has also boosted my personal levels of energy and enthusiasm on quite a grand scale. I am very excited about the next three years!'

17/08/2017Patron of Reading changeover
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