I was listening to The World at One, on Radio 4, and was delighted to hear of an initiative sweeping across Europe. It is particularly popular in French schools. Its premises are particularly close to my heart. It is a simple plan which could have wide repercussions. and benefits. Taking five minutes off three lessons in the afternoon, everyone in the school reads a book for fifteen minutes. Teachers and ancillary workers also take part. One Headteacher spoke of the initiative’s benefits. These included:
- encouragement of reading
- a calming, concentrated effect on pupils for afternoon sessions
- greater access to culture
- improvements in reading and writing
- opportunities for reading in a busy, cluttered world.
One of things she did not mention, but which research is showing us, is that reading makes people happier. It brings stillness, reflection, imagination and pleasure to the day.
Similar schemes have taken place in schools I have worked in, but they were only partially successful. Looking back, I can see why. Firstly, the schemes did not achieve the success of the European venture, Quiet please, we are reading, because too much time was given [one hour]on a rolling basis which displaced scheduled lessons. Lastly, our schemes did not involve every person in the school. The French version involves everyone from office staff, cleaners to teaching staff who are not teaching at that time. The problems, my schools encountered were logistic, and the principles of providing reading opportunities remain.
In France, there are plans to bring the reading fifteen minutes idea to civil servants. Are the French inherently more cultured than we are? I don’t think so, but we do have things to learn from them about making reading a pleasurable activity which gives us all a fuller education.