Literacy: Who is the Secret Storyteller?

Written by: Christine Dean | Published:
Surprising results: The Secret Storyteller project at Milton Primary School has proven a great hit with pupils

Milton Primary School’s Secret Storyteller project, which brings parents into school to read to children, has been an enormous success. Christine Dean explains how it works

In an article for The Guardian in 2010, Pie Corbett, wrote: “Children who are told stories are the ones who first form abstract concepts across the curriculum – in other words, being read to makes you brainy. The best writers in the class are always those who are avid readers and those who are read to. It may be parents have lost faith with this idea (reading to their children), but education is a way out of poverty.”

At Milton Primary School, Melissa Mifflin, a Specialist Leader of Education in the early years, has been leading work on a successful reading and parental engagement initiative called the Secret Storyteller.

The project was started by inviting the local library into the Foundation Stage classes, with the parents joining in too. Children’s favourite stories were shared and were also available to borrow. Parents were then invited to put their names forward to come and share their child’s favourite bedtime story with the class. This has extended to grandparents asking if they can come and be the Secret Storyteller and a member of our local church coming into Reception on a weekly basis to read stories.

Ms Mifflin said: “As parents are familiar with their child’s favourite story, they had more confidence to come and read the story in school.”

Diminishing the difference between boys’ and girls’ reading attainment was on the Early Years Action Plan. As such, boys’ fathers and male relatives or carers are encouraged to come and read to children as positive role-models for the boys and their enjoyment of reading.

The children became so excited about seeing their parent come to school and read their favourite story, that peer pressure encouraged more parents to put their name down as the Secret Storyteller. Now each week children wait with baited to breath, to see whose parent/carer/relative is here to read a story. Our local pastor came and read to our children too.

During May 2016 and a HMI visit, the lead inspector said that she had read our weekly newsletters and really enjoyed the Secret Storyteller section. She commented upon the positive impact of this initiative on raising attainment through parent/carer partnership.

These are some comments from our parents about the impact of the Secret Storyteller project:

  • “I really enjoyed it. When can I read to the children again?”
  • “We now read every night and I now know what questions to ask my child.”
  • “I have developed my own confidence when reading with my son.”
  • “I can’t believe the children’s understanding of the story I told.”
  • “We have joined our library and share new books together every week.”

Secret Storyteller is having an impact on many areas of our early years curriculum. Children help their grown-up to read the story, showing their grown-up what to do. Children talk confidently about their favourite/least favourite parts of the story using full sentences and using “because” to extend their sentence and explain why.

Children are also role-playing Secret Storyteller sessions, taking on the role of the Secret Storyteller. One Reception child recently asked if she could be the Secret Storyteller, practising at home and then reading confidently to a class of 26 children.

The impact it has had on the children and community is wonderful to see. The children are enthused with reading at home; parents are also enjoying and thriving on the experiences they have gained, even joining in with class learning by wearing props that children have made for them.

It has also had a positive impact on attainment in reading and enjoyment of books within school. The gender gap is diminishing too.

The parents’ engagement with this activity has been so beneficial and parents’ confidence has grown so much that we are considering extending this practice whereby parents bring along their child’s book and staff support parents with ideas for how they can use the book at home to support children’s learning.

For our youngest children, this includes learning how a book works, tracking left to right, looking for letters which they are learning alongside reading the story.

This can be developed further as children progress. As parents are now confident to come into school and read to the children, we are considering also extending this initiative into key stage 1.

  • Christine Dean is executive headteacher of the Learning Village Academy Trust, encompassing Greenways Primary Academy and Milton Primary in Stoke-on-Trent. She is also a National Leader of Education.


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