Now that I am retired, my volunteer work provides structure to my week. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, for the past eight years, I have volunteered at my local primary school. I get so much out of the experience of being a volunteer. There are 170 children at the school, and most of them know my name: this really makes me feel like part of the community, which is so important after retirement.

When I started off eight years ago, I was working with year 4 children (aged 8-9 years) doing catch-up reading and writing. One-to-one support is very helpful for children: just 15 minutes, twice a week, can improve their grades dramatically.

Four years ago I started support work with Sam, a boy who had slipped through the net and reached the age of 9 without being able to read or write. Sam is very quiet, and in a class of 30 his teachers had not recognised his ability to fake competence. For 18 months, I only worked with Sam. Twice a week, on a one-to-one basis for an hour and a half, we built up his reading and writing skills. By the time he was 11 he had achieved the reading age of a child of 8. Every 15 minutes we moved on to a new task or rehearsed new skills. We worked on telling the time, bus and train timetables, some geography and finding your way about using an A-to-Z. We also worked on maths and money. I continue to be amazed by how many modern youngsters have little to no experience of handling coins.

Last year I began working with an eight-year-old girl, Linda, who had just arrived at the school unable to read and write. This was her first experience of full time education. Every day of the school week for a term and a half I saw her for 20 to 30 minutes. The school uses a system of phonics and with Linda we started rehearsing the sounds of letters and letter combinations. Now she is nine and going into her second to last year at junior school. Linda reads with hesitation. She is justifiably proud of her achievement.


Names have been changed to protect privacy.