Evaluation of Coram Beanstalk’s reading support programmes (2022)

Coram Beanstalk’s programmes seek to improve children’s lives through reading support so that their risk of long-term disadvantage and the negative consequences of illiteracy are reduced.

The most common delivery model is for volunteers to provide reading support twice a week to children that are identified as lacking confidence in reading, reading below their expected level, or lacking opportunities outside of school. However, a small number of volunteers also provide support once a week. This mixed-methods evaluation compared these two patterns of support delivered in English primary schools during the academic year 2018/19 to see whether twice a week compared to once a week work with children brought greater improvements. We found that young people (n=1,220 reading records) improved to a similar extent across the two programmes in terms of their reading attainment, confidence, enjoyment, and emotional wellbeing.

Our survey of 293 volunteers found that almost all thought their volunteering pattern was enough to build a rapport with children, whether this was once or twice a week. This was echoed in interviews with 8 volunteers who also described how much they enjoyed volunteering with Beanstalk. Given the context of post-pandemic learning losses and the findings of the current evaluation, we recommend that Coram Beanstalk offer once-a-week reading volunteering opportunities more widely, in order to reach greater numbers of children and recruit volunteers with less flexibility.