A primary school teacher from Doncaster has been awarded £25,000 to develop an innovative quiz website aimed at getting children to read more at home.
Reading On Your Head is the brainchild of Richard Cowie, who teaches Year 6 at Lakeside Primary Academy. For the past four years, he has been developing his site with his friend John Applin, a coding specialist.
Now, after winning Let Teachers SHINE, Richard can take his idea to the next level, and he believes it can make a difference to children – particularly boys from low-income homes. His own school, which he also attended as a child, serves an area of high deprivation.
“I am an avid reader myself and have always believed in the power of reading as a tool to elevate pupils’ potential and enable them to achieve their very best,” Richard said.
“My motivation for applying for Let Teachers SHINE is to allow to me to support disadvantaged pupils in my own school, my own community and, I hope in time, further afield.
“I believe all pupils, and parents, should be able to access high-quality reading support, both at home and at school.”
For a multitude of reasons, boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are far behind their better-off peers when it comes to reading.
Part of the problem can be that parents are unsure of how best to support their children at home and don’t have access to the information and resources they need.
“Our vision is that whatever children do in school, they also do at home,” said Richard. “It’s that over rehearsal, and that repetition of skills that leads to success and leads to improved outcomes.
“So, we make all our resources universally available in school and at home, with guides that parents can use.
“It demystifies reading for parents, they know exactly what to do, and they can take the same approach that’s used in school, which makes everyone happier.”
Richard says the website will also “give teachers back time to teach”, by providing them with a large bank of pre-prepared resources for reading that can be used both offline and online.
And it will also “make reading more fun”, Richard added. “Children can make their own quizzes, they can share them with the friends, they have their own avatars, they can collect rewards. There are gaming features. Children can compete in reading, a lot like Times Tables Rockstars.
What that platform does for times tables, we aim to do the same thing for reading.
Richard has received support and encouragement from the creator of Times Tables Rockstars, Bruno Reddy, one of the best-known past winners of Let Teachers SHINE.
The grant from education SHINE will help with the development of the site, with new graphics, extra features, and new content.
Schools who sign up for the website will be able to request material relating to specific books.
“The more content we offer, the more valuable we are,” said Richard.
“To begin with we just wanted to get it out there and get it tested and get people enjoying it, in a small way, but the dream is to get the full programme launched, to get it out there, and eventually get it international as well.”
All this work will be carried out while Richard and his partner continue with their full time jobs.
“It’s definitely full on, but I’m used to being busy. And if it’s something that you’re doing for yourself and something you believe in, it’s worth it.”
Richard said winning the Let Teachers SHINE grant is “life changing”.
“When we started this project, we thought we might be able to roll it out to maybe one or two schools, but to have the chance and the funding to make it into a real product that we can get out there across the UK, and hopefully even further, is absolutely amazing. It’s hard to put into words, but we are extremely excited.”