SINCE Oxford schools were discovered to have one of the lowest achieving literacy rates in England in 2010, a range of creative projects have been initiated to improve the reading and writing skills of pupils in the city.
Learning Through Stories is a two-year literacy project with Oxford Inspires, Oxford City Council, The Story Museum and Pegasus Theatre, supported by Artswork, which works with both primary and secondary schools, at Years 3 and 4, and Years 7 and 8 respectively.
Each school has been working with a professional storyteller and creative artists to choose a story from across the world, which is part of each school’s library or supports their curriculum.
Pegasus has been taking professional storytellers and creative artists into schools for Tale Trail since November.
The hope is they will develop a love of books from outside of the traditional learning curriculum but which will boost their development in school.
While not intrinsically linked to Oxford City Council’s literacy scheme – the KRM programme – which is being used in seven primary schools in the city to boost reading and maths, it features some of the same schools.
The Oxford Mail-backed Reading Campaign, run by Oxfordshire County Council with the National Literacy Trust, saw results improve significantly with 81 per cent of children achieving the higher Level 2b or above in reading – higher than the national average of 79 per cent.
Head of creative learning at the Magdalen Road-based theatre, Yasmin Sidhwa, said many pupils at the schools came from poorer backgrounds, with a higher proportion of children having English as a second language, which affects results.
She said: “The schools with pupils who are struggling with literacy are the ones we have chosen and those who are in a more deprived area of Oxford and those with more students with English as a second language.
“We are hoping to get children to learn about narrative and understand it and learn how stories are created.
“This way when they go home they, hopefully, want to read by themselves, or get mum or dad to read them a story at night and so they just love stories.
“The stories we are doing with them come from all sorts of places in the world: Nigeria, the Amazon, from Hinduism and the Aborigines.”
Through drama and music the children will perform plays before creating and developing their own stories to perform.
The pupils are adapting, improvising, devising and scripting their own productions and working with different creative artists using drama, circus, dance, poetry or music to create their own world story.
Ms Sidhwa said: “There is great enthusiasm for the project and the children are really fantastic to work with. If this helps them pick up a book and develop a love of literature then it will all be worth it.”
Aliyah Tabussam, Sumreen Latif and Ameera Awan
Rachel Morris, head of performing arts at Cheney School – one of the schools involved – said: “It gives us another opportunity to promote literacy in a different form than reading or writing, but through performance.
“It is the best opportunity we have had and for the 20 Year 7s who are involved it is just great. To have the chance at just 11 years old to perform on stage will be amazing.”
At the end of the project, next month, each school will perform its play to families and schoolchildren from the other schools at Pegasus Theatre.
Angharad Arnott-Phillips, Tale Trail project co-ordinator, has been leading the sessions at Sandhills Primary School and St John Fisher.
She said: “We did a session where children were asked to write their own lyrics and reading and hearing the words they had written was just beautiful.
“They have really risen to that challenge and some did initially find it really difficult to express themselves that way but giving them the ownership over those words has developed their creativity.”
Louisa Dean, Oxford City Council spokeswoman, said: “The Learning Through Stories project is helping to raise attainment in schools by introducing children to a range of stories, using drama and storytelling to encourage the developing of speaking, listening, reading and writing in children in Oxford city schools.
“We are pleased to be working with Oxford Inspires, Pegasus Theatre and The Story Museum on this project, funded by Artswork, which is building children’s confidence and their enjoyment of learning.”
Schools Pegasus is working with:
East Oxford Primary
John Henry Newman Academy
St John Fisher Catholic Primary
Our Lady’s Catholic Primary
Sandhills Community Primary
Wood Farm Primary
- Tale Trail performances will be at Pegasus in Magdalen Road, Oxford, on February 6 and 7, at 1.30pm and 6pm.
- Tickets cost £3 and can be bought from the box office on 01865 812150.
- For more information, see pegasustheatre.org.uk/shows/tale-trail
STORY MUSEUM TO LAUNCH ANOTHER PROJECT
The Story Museum, based in Pembroke Street, Oxford, will in March lead pupils from eight schools in another literacy project.
- It takes oral storytelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur myth and an exhibition into the schools for two days and children can get involved in an interactive exhibition.
They also have the chance to create their own exhibition about stories.
Kate Sayer, head of learning and participation, said: “The idea is that we share with them to inspire them to find out about the stories themselves and read more about it.
“And then they create their own pieces about it using art, pictures, singing songs. All of this helps to improve their literacy.”
Primary schools confirmed so far: