Butterfly School Scarborough is a literacy project open to all primary school age children in Scarborough and the surrounding districts. It came about when I was looking for something socially useful to do one day a week. I am a farmer in the middle of Dalby Forest which can be quite isolating, so, as my children got older I looked for something that would plug me back into my local community. As a late reader myself, I well remembered feeling panic at school and also fear that I must be stupid that I couldn’t de-code what other children seemed to find easy. This memory prompted me to look for ways to help children boost their confidence with reading and writing. Researching on the internet I quickly realised that the Jesuits had it right. Many academic studies have been done which confirm that children who go on to succeed in their schooling generally are those who have mastered the basics of literacy by the time they are age seven.

I also discovered that about a fifth of British children leave primary school without getting to the stage where they read for pleasure. What could volunteers do to “catch” these children early and boost their chances? Fortunately I came across a tried and tested Saturday morning scheme in London which had been getting excellent results using a very systematic synthetic phonics approach. I wondered if we could copy that format here. I chose Eastfield to start the project because at that time 14% of local parents did not have adult literacy levels meaning that children from those homes would be lacking vital extra support. Initially I approached local councillors and Head teachers who were all very encouraging with one councillor and one Head even joining the committee. A meeting was held in Eastfield Library one wet and dark January evening and just enough potential volunteers turned up to make the project feasible. We began the 2nd half term of summer 2013 with 9 volunteers. That first morning exactly 9 children turned up which was a nice way to break us all in gently! Since then we have taught over 60 children and we currently have about 16 coming regularly. Although we sometimes get individuals who like to test us a little to start with, generally the children we have have been polite and eager to learn.

Because we are a new venue and a new set of faces, for any child just starting, we can often provide a fresh start. One of the key aspects of Butterfly is that pupils are placed in a small group according to ability rather than age and often this helps to restore confidence.

Butterfly isn’t just about helping those who have struggled with reading and writing. Pupils progress at their own pace so that some children will loop back to re-study what isn’t yet secure knowledge, whilst others rise rapidly through the classes to study advanced grammar and also to analyse and appreciate extracts from classical literature such as Dickens or Oscar Wilde. For these children Butterfly is able to stretch and challenge.

The Butterfly method is quite repetitive and it is fair to say it is a bit dry too, which is why we do also break it up a bit with related games, learning poems and listening to reading. There is also a dedicated story time after break which is nothing about the technical aspect of reading, but just about learning to sit still and concentrate on a good yarn.

There are 2 types of volunteers we need. People with enough confidence to lead a class eventually and people who only want to be class assistants who are responsible for helping to maintain discipline and keeping children focused. These people do not need to have previous experience of teaching but they do need to have good literacy skills themselves and to be encouraging and enthusiastic. Most importantly they must be able to work as part of a team. Additionally we would love to have a dedicated publicity manager who could organise stalls in supermarket foyers, leave fliers in libraries, liaise with schools and newspapers and local radio as well as keeping us visible on social media.

If any of this appeals, do phone me, Kathy Bushell, for a chat on 01723 850388