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Children’s attitude to reading will be assessed and their broader experiences will also be recorded, and teachers, older people and parents will be interviewed.

Experts to track impact of inspirational charity connecting old and young through reading

Education experts are working to pilot the impact of an inspirational charity which connects old and young through reading.

The new study will help Cornish-created Silver Stories to share with partners and schools the impact of taking part in the scheme, where children from primary and secondary schools read to older people over the phone each week to help tackle both social isolation, wellbeing issues and enable children to have a richer reading experience.

Children take part because they may want to improve their reading, become more confident with other people by chatting with a Silver Listener, and/ or offer support to an older person.

University of Exeter researchers are currently evaluating the programme and will use findings to inform the development and refinement of the programme. Better information about the impact of Silver Stories will help the charity to boost work to improve children’s reading accuracy and comprehension and social wellbeing for both readers and the older listeners.

Children’s attitude to reading will be assessed and their broader experiences will also be recorded, and teachers, older people and parents will be interviewed.

The project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is led by Dr George Koutsouris, Professor Brahm Norwich and Tricia Nash from the University of Exeter. 

Dr Koutsouris said: “Coronavirus lockdowns led to increasing isolation among the older generation, while school closures and educational disruption sharpened existing educational inequalities, especially in literacy. This has had a negative impact on the wellbeing of old and young.

“We will track the experiences of those taking part and examine the processes underpinning Silver Stories to inform development of the programme and support it to expand its reach. Our study will analyse how the programme works and its potential outcomes for social wellbeing and literacy.”

The research has already begun, through a pilot study where participants were interviewed.

Tricia Nash, the research officer of the pilot, said: “The Silver Stories pilot study is one of the most uplifting and positive research projects that I have been involved with in all my years as a researcher. I contacted several silver readers and their silver listeners about their experiences of reading or listening last term either by talking to them over the phone or through online questionnaires. I also contacted in the same way the parents of the readers and the school staff who had supported the readers during their reading calls.

“The unanimous feedback was how terrific the experiences had been. The readers talked about how nice it was to read to the listeners although some were a bit nervous at first but in no time at all they really enjoyed the weekly call with their listener. The listeners really looked forward to their calls from the readers and so missed them over the school holidays in May. By the end of the term the readers and listeners often reported that they had formed a close relationship with their listener or reader and some even continued with their weekly sessions over the summer holidays! The parents reported how their son or daughter had really liked reading to their silver listener and how their reading had improved as a result both in skills and confidence. The school staff backed up these verdicts by reporting rising reading levels and increased confidence and enjoyment when reading to the listeners and in class too.”

Silver Stories was created by retired police sergeant David Carney-Haworth OBE and his wife, Elisabeth Carney-Haworth OBE, a primary school headteacher, in 2015. Having witnessed first-hand how magical the relationship between the generations can be, they wanted to create a way in which this could be fostered whilst also benefiting the participating children. Initially created in Elisabeth’s school, the silver readers were drawn from the Year 2 children who wished to take part and the silver listeners were all living in the school’s local community.  The project launched as a charity, with listeners and readers from around the country, at the beginning of 2020.

Since Silver Stories began teachers have observed improved reading skills and enhanced reading and social confidence, but this is the first research to measure the impact of the project.

Elisabeth Carney-Haworth said: “This will be a powerful piece of research which will support the development of Silver Stories with schools, silver listeners living in their own homes and providers of care for the elderly. The aim is for Silver Stories to develop as an education and community-based project nationwide, and the study is crucial to support this development.”

Date: 20 October 2021

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