Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Show and Tell: The PM Pops in to Praise St Mary's; GET LONDON READING Evening Standard Campaign

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Show and Tell: The PM Pops in to Praise St Mary's; GET LONDON READING Evening Standard Campaign

Article excerpt

Byline: David Cohen

NOBODY at St Mary's primary can remember anyone of note visiting their school. Ever. But yesterday the Prime Minister came calling and it will be talked about in this Battersea cul-de-sac for years to come.

He came to St Mary's, the flagship school of our Get London Reading campaign, to pay tribute to its battle to improve literacy at a time when one in four leave primary school unable to read and write properly. He also came to see for himself the army of Evening Standard reading volunteers who are on the front line, making this improvement possible.

"It is a huge privilege for me as Prime Minister to come across the river and see what you are doing here," he said, praising the school and its new headteacher Jared Brading. "I want to say a big thank-you to the Evening Standard for the huge amount you have done, but above all, I want to thank the volunteers."

Reading matters for two simple reasons, he told pupils. "If we don't learn to read properly, then everything else in education is a closed book. But above and beyond that, reading is a joy and a pleasure and it is for life."

St Mary's, with 27 languages and 40 per cent of children on free school meals, had called the Standard last year to bring in reading mentors after only 52 per cent of leavers made the grade in English and maths.

Yesterday Ukrainian billionaire Kostyantin Zhevago, who bankrolled the project with [pounds sterling]100,000 to fund 85 volunteers at St Mary's over three years, also visited the school and met volunteers for the first time. The Prime Minister thanked him for his invaluable contribution, together with Sue Porto, chief executive of our campaign partner, Volunteer Reading Help, a charity he praised as "brilliant", based on "a simple yet hugely effective idea".

But it was the children for whom this was a Red Letter Day. The pupils in reception, who were in the playground when Mr Cameron's motorcade arrived at 2.15pm, rushed to the fence as the Prime Minister stepped out.

"Hello, hello, nice to see you," he greeted the dumbfounded four-yearolds as he began his hour-long visit by signing the visitors' book. Thereafter the proud salutation, "Good afternoon Prime Minister", never before heard in these parts, resounded in unison through the classrooms as Mr Cameron met each year group and sat down to chat to pupils.

"What is it like to have a reading volunteer?" he asked Divine Obijiaku, a year 6 pupil. "Fantastic," replied Divine. "What is it that makes a difference?" pressed the Prime Minister. "Reading is much easier now because I can practise. We do half an hour in one go." "I work with three boys twice a week for half an hour each time," explained his reading volunteer, Jo Coker, 29, a psychology graduate.

Mr Cameron pointed to a couple of difficult words that she was teaching Divine and said: "I find with my own children, when they get a really long word, they do the first bit okay but then they just make up the rest. It's about getting them going, isn't it? It's really satisfying once you get them going."

Mr Cameron said he read to his own children "not every night, but a couple of times a week". "My five-year-old is just on the cusp of breaking through and my seven-year-old is just getting into chapter books. I think that however busy you are in life, you should always try to read to your children."

FACING a barrage of questions from pupils in every class, Mr Cameron told them that his favourite children's book was The Lorax by Dr Seuss, "because it's funny and wacky and got a good message about saving the environment", and he promised to send them a copy. He also thanked pupils for calling him "the right honourable David Cameron" and not, as one school had done, "the right horrible David Cameron". Later he got a surprise when it emerged that one of the Evening Standard reading volunteers was the House of Commons Serjeant at Arms. …

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