A Local Authority Approach to the Reading Challenge: South Lanarkshire

Children reading in the hallway

Tracey McDermott, Development Officer for South Lanarkshire Council discusses how they have approached the First Minister’s Reading Challenge and all the fantastic ways in which schools across the authority are building a reading culture.  

Primary schools in South Lanarkshire have enthusiastically embraced The First Minister’s Reading Challenge and adopted a range of innovative ideas to encourage pupils to read for pleasure. Schools were encouraged to engage with the initiative at the Literacy Conference hosted by South Lanarkshire Council in September 2016. They were inspired by an engaging talk from Jen Harwood from Scottish Book Trust, who suggested various ideas to enthuse children about their personal reading.

South Lanarkshire Council recognises the importance of reading in improving Literacy levels, and this has been a key part of the work of our cross-sector Literacy Strategy Implantation Group. The group is developing literacy training for whole staff groups in all primary schools, providing them with evidence-based interventions to use to raise attainment in literacy and materials to support staff to engage with the new literacy benchmarks.

A key aspect of raising attainment in literacy and across the curriculum is encouraging pupils to read, and The First Minister’s Challenge offered an excellent opportunity for schools to build momentum with this. Following the initial launch at the Literacy Conference in September, schools were asked to feed back to the Curriculum Quality Improvement Service on the activities they were undertaking. CQIS staff then undertook a number of good practice visits around the authority. These examples will be shared with all schools in the authority, and staff involved in these initiatives will be offered opportunities to deliver training to build staff capacity across the authority. Here is a taste of what we have seen across the authority…

Chapelton Primary School

Chapleton Primary

Chapleton Primary is a small rural school near Strathaven with two multi-composite classes. They launched The First Minister’s Reading Challenge at a Parent Open Evening early in the term and the enthusiasm in their P4 – P7 class is a delight to see! Pupils have created their own “unofficial” lending library by bringing in their own books to share with others in the class. This child-led initiative has encouraged pupils to recommend novels to their peers and generated a real reading culture. 

Staff in the school have built on this enthusiasm by hosting events like the “Room on the Broom” day. They have also built an excellent relationship with local author David Goutcher who has visited the school and given inspiring tasks to the children, who are big fans of his recent novel Spy Quest 2: Cursed Diamond.

Chapleton Primary

His talk generated such enthusiasm that Primary 6 pupil Ben Keely read the novel in a weekend and became the first child in the world to discover the secret code hidden in the text! David Goutcher was delighted to hear about Ben’s super sleuth skills and returned to the school to present him with a prize.

Stonehouse Primary School

All pupils at Stonehouse Primary School near Larkhall are enthusiastic participants in The First Minister’s Reading Challenge. Staff created passports for Primary 1 to 3 to ensure they were included in the challenge too.

They were keen to promote family learning opportunities that supported their reading culture and established “A book, a bite and a blether” after-school club. Parents, carers, grandparents and extended family members are invited into the library, which sits in the heart of the school, on a Monday after school to read with their children and participate in various reading-related activities. Family members are also encouraged to read to the whole group and lead activities. Guest writers are often welcomed to the group and have included Matthew Fitt, who has written a selection of Scots books including Katie’s Moose; Susan Rennie, who translated The BFG and Tin Tin into Scots; as well as Professor Kirsten McQue, a professor from Glasgow University who is the Scots ambassador in the school.

Townhill Primary School

Pupils, staff and parents at Townhill Primary have wholeheartedly embraced the Reading Challenge and have worked as a team to promote the enjoyment of reading, embedding it fully in their everyday routines.

Parent helpers have assisted in revamping the school’s library, which is now being managed by a group of ‘Reading Champions’ from P4-P7.

The school worked in partnership with Scotia Book Company on a seven-week sponsored reading challenge and raised almost £2000 to buy new books for the library. The new stock was colour coded in the ‘Chilli Challenge’ and children are encouraged to borrow the books over two, hugely successful lunchtime clubs which host more than 60 children per session every week. 

Townhill Primary

Each class has planned and created their own "reading snug" - homely and comfortable reading corners where children can read for enjoyment every day as a class. They just hang the “shh we are reading” banner on the door to ensure they are not disturbed. Every month the Reading Champions hold new challenges to promote reading; the group have hosted an "advertise your author" competition, "re-write a Christmas classic" challenge, bring and swap your pre-loved book event and even had inspirational guests visit the school to talk about their love of reading. Our motivational speakers included Rangers FC team first player, two Celtic FC professional youth players and their coach, an STV news anchor and an award-nominated author.


Whole school reading was further celebrated by creating a "River of Reading" from P1-P7 on World Book Day. Everyone in the school lined the corridors, got comfortable and basked in the enjoyment of reading together.

The Reading Champions have many more things planned to keep the love of reading alive in Townhill Primary School over the coming years.

Carstairs Junction Primary School

Pupils at Carstairs Junction Primary School near Lanark have been involved in an exciting visual literacy project which is designed to encourage all pupils to read. Primary 7 pupils are taught how to interpret and analyse picture books. Pupils are introduced to the concept of taking a picture walk and assume the role of reading detectives. They then take on a leadership role and, using their new skills, read to nursery pupils and help foster an enthusiasm for reading in the early years.

Looking Forward

South Lanarkshire Council is currently working with the Edinburgh Book Festival to bring a satellite book festival to East Kilbride and will be devoting time at the next Literacy Conference in May to explore other ways to build on the success of The First Minister’s Reading Challenge next session.

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