Readathon for outpatients

Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service (GHES) is an alternative education setting, providing outreach home-based education to children from 4-18, unable to attend school due to extenuating medical needs. Up until the pandemic, most of the pupils accessing GHES did so because of immunocompromising conditions including cancer and heart conditions. When well enough, children would rejoin their mainstream setting. In addition, GHES provided their education service to some children unable to attend school due to significant mental health needs. 

From September 2021, GHES reported a 330% increase in referrals to the outreach service driven almost exclusively by mental health needs of children and young people following school closures and other disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently the service felt very stretched for resources, and was keen to explore ways to help to boost children’s academic and mental wellbeing. 

By nature of serving a community of pupils who are at home, many hospital outreach services report issues of isolation, as children are no longer socialising at school, nor are within the four walls of the hospital where they could meet other children. Finding communal activities that can help combat the isolation is always a challenge for the teaching staff. 

Read for Good approached Gloucestershire Hospital Education Services (GHES) to explore the possibility of piloting a project to motivate their children to read, informed by our work in schools and hospitals. 

Some children leaving hospital will continue to be educated by the Hospital School team, shifting from in-patient to out-patient learning. We felt there would be a natural fit to working with hospital outreach teams, bridging the work Read for Good does in hospitals and schools, and supporting children who are particularly marginalised. 

We wanted to combine the wonderfully positive mental health benefits of reading, with the benefits of a shared, purposeful activity in which each individual pupil has a sense of community, shared goals, and working together. 

Through conversations with Lee Baker, Literacy Lead for GHES, we decided a project that brought together the motivation of Readathon with the real-time tracking of progress provided by Track My Read would work well for the children they were supporting. 

  • GHES would set a challenge for all pupils to collectively read for 5,000 minutes over a two week period.
  • If the target was met, this would ‘unlock’ a donation of books and comics from Read for Good to families accessing local food banks. For children who have extenuating medical needs, we felt there was a need for an alternative motivation than reading to benefit seriously ill children in hospital. 
  • In addition, if the 5,000 minute target was met by pupils, then GHES would also receive brand new books which of course would be accessible to pupils. We felt that rewarding the pupils with new books, which could be brought to them by teachers visiting their homes, would help to encourage the pupils to continue to read beyond the duration of the project.

To facilitate the Readathon for GHES, we proposed the use of Read for Good’s Track My Read, a web-based app developed by Read for Good during lockdown to help schools motivate pupils to read for fun at home. Teachers set pupils a collective target number of minutes to read, pupils record what they read, how long they read for and how much they enjoyed it, and teachers get rich reading behaviour data by pupil. 

Each child under GHES’s care received a unique log in which they could access on a computer, tablet or phone whenever they wanted, where they record what they’ve read, for how many minutes, and how much they enjoyed it through a simple emoji rating. 

We felt this would be really effective for the pupils, especially because outreach teachers could check in with pupils to see how they were doing with the challenge, and help to overcome any barriers to participation as a result of technology.

Project delivery

Read for Good presented the project to the entire GHES education team (teachers and teaching assistants) as a part of an inset day, focusing on key messages:

  • Reading for pleasure will benefit children’s wellbeing and attainment generally
  • Encouraging reading for pleasure is a simple way to aid children’s recovery from the pandemic, educationally and emotionally
  • Reading for pleasure is when children read what they choose (it’s not assessed or ‘set’ by teachers)
  • Comics, audio books, non-fiction – anything goes when it comes to reading for pleasure
  • If children are struggling to find something to read, encourage them to reflect on what they enjoy – gaming, cooking, sports – and tie that interest into something to read
  • This campaign is designed to help unite pupils in a common purpose and a motivational goal

Following the inset day, Read for Good provided GHES with:

  • Access to Track My Read for all pupils
  • Guidance on how to use Track My Read which included a short film and also email support
  • A launch film, sent to participating children to get them excited about the project
  • Ongoing support for the duration of the Readathon

GHES set themselves a collective target of 5,000 minutes, to be read by participating pupils over a two week period.

GHES staff and pupils could see their progress via their Track My Read ‘public dashboard’ which can be shared on social media, encouraging even more reading throughout the 2-week period. 

Organisers at GHES could also see individual pupil reading behaviour so they could review who was participating, to what degree, and those that weren’t. 

At the end of the activity, Read for Good provided:

  • Brand new books for GHES and brand new books and comics for Gloucestershire foodbanks
  • A celebration film, also sent to participating children, to thank them for their reading, and showing them some of the books that would be available for them through the GHES outreach team as a result of their participating in the challenge

Results and reflections

We used data from Track My Read, and interview answers from Literacy Lead, Lee Baker to understand the impact of this pilot project on children.

Quantitative Impact

Track My Read provides data to Read for Good to assess how children engaged with the project (NB. this data is anonymised for Read for Good but the full data set can be accessed by the school). TMR data enabled us to understand to what extent the pupils engaged with the app, and to what extent they enjoyed reading. Highlights include

  • Pupils more than doubled the target of 5,000 minutes originally set by GHES – with a total of 10,060 minutes! GHES public dashboard:
  • More than half of pupils were active on Track My Read – there were 62 active pupils out of 114 pupils registered (54% engagement)
  • On average each child read 153 mins over the two week pilot
  • There were 281 reading sessions recorded – with an average 34 mins per session
  • Reading times ranged from 5 mins to 120 mins (max you can enter)
  • Children’s average enjoyment rating was 4.3 out of 5

Highlights of Literacy Lead, Lee Baker’s reflections on the whole campaign:

  • “The data captured on Track My Read was super helpful.”  
  • “It was easy to use the site and I sent out a copy of the results spreadsheet a couple of times during the Readathon which staff found really helpful to see.”
  • “Some of our pupils hadn’t logged their reading or had said they’d been reading when they hadn’t so it was useful for tutors and teachers to show them that they could monitor individuals’ minutes!).”
  • “The trickiest part was communicating the hyperlinks to pupils. We emailed them out but not all pupils access their emails (especially primary pupils) and communicating something service-wide can be tricky since so many of our pupils learn remotely and parents don’t all read our weekly emails.”
  • “Our pupils really loved the idea that they were reading to help others.

When asked to consider the impact on the pupils, Lee reported a positive impact on reading, and also on creating a school community for children educated in disparate settings. 

Community impact – helping others:

  • “The best thing about it has been that our pupils have felt part of a team which is so hard for us to achieve in Outpatients, with our pupils all over the county, and so many of them having mostly online lessons so a huge thank you for arranging for our service to take part.”
  • “[Pupils] were really motivated by the fact their reading would help families using the food bank to access magazines and books.”
  • “Our pupils really loved the idea that they were reading to help others.”

Reading impact

  • “We have loved taking part in the Readathon.  It has meant that even some of our most reluctant pupils have been reading.”
  • “We saw a direct boost in the reading for pleasure of our pupils were doing as a result of both the challenge and the books we received.”

Analysis and next steps

Our pilot delivery of Readathon for pupils of GHES suggests that it had a positive impact on their reading and the feeling of community.  

Although only a small pilot, Lee added, “We would be incredibly keen to do it again next year”.  

  • Read for Good provides ongoing opportunities for settings working with children to apply for a Brilliant Box of Books for their setting – this can be used alongside Read for Good’s tools to create a rounded campaign with rewards. Settings can apply for a Brilliant Box of Books here.
  • Track My Read was developed during lockdown on a very limited budget, and we always knew that some of the ‘back end’ functionality could be improved – based on feedback like Lee’s and that from other schools using Track My Read, we are implementing an interactive improvement plan to improve the user experience and simplify some of the more technically challenging aspects.
  • Individual and Group printed trackers are also available on Read for Good’s website, for children or schools where they prefer not to use digital tools, or would prefer a mix of online and printed resources.

Read the full report here.

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