Letterbox Club: Giving children equal access to reading

Published on: 08 May 2024

At BookTrust, we know all too well the value of reading for children, and the world books can open up, especially for children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage. This is why we developed programmes like Letterbox Club through our expertise. We spoke to one deputy headteacher who used Letterbox Club to help disadvantaged students develop a habit of reading for enjoyment.

A teacher sitting on the floor of a school book corner with a child excitedly opening a Letterbox Club parcel

Getting students excited about reading regularly

Deputy headteacher Ruth Dunmore came across BookTrust's Letterbox Club as part of her efforts to enhance her school's culture of reading for pleasure.

As well as supporting care-experienced children, Letterbox Club is designed for families who are at risk of missing out on the benefits of reading regularly at home. The programme allows the school to send expertly-curated parcels of books and other resources that make a lasting impact on children's reading habits and their emotional wellbeing.

"We're conscious BookTrust's Letterbox Club supports families where there may not be any books in a household," says Ruth.

"That family may not be in a place where they have found pleasure in reading or had that experience growing up. They may not own a library card or be in a position to financially engage in bookshops. What you end up with is a really worrying picture of this being passed on generationally.

"If we are able to put a gift in place - like a stack of books from BookTrust's Letterbox Club - that a child feels excited about, and that they can share with a parent, you've hopefully got a level of engagement that wouldn't have occurred otherwise.

"Being read to regularly is going to make the biggest impact on their whole school career."

Letterbox Club for Pupil Premium students

A teacher and a child enjoying Letterbox Club books

Ruth was formerly deputy head of Westbrook Primary Academy in Haverhill, Suffolk, a school with a very high percentage of Pupil Premium students and "exceptionally high" SEND representation (students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities). Supporting the pastoral needs of families was of "paramount importance" to her role, at a time where funding to services in Haverhill was being cut drastically.

"We needed to go above and beyond," says Ruth. "I primarily began looking at children at our school with the highest level of need, both socially and emotionally, but also in their academic standing, which brought me to a significant number of looked-after families, as well as Pupil Premium children. It was amazing to discover that we were eligible for BookTrust's Letterbox Club. I didn't know if we would be, but we were."

Impact of Letterbox Club – and a proud Ofsted moment

"My experience of using Letterbox Club is that families feel very seen and considered," says Ruth. "As a primary practitioner, you are only going to be as successful as your relationship with your students and with the families that they are going home to.

"One of the most beautiful moments for me was after the first book package had been delivered to one of the family's homes. There were three children who each got their own Letterbox Club parcel. One of the elder children told me they'd never owned their own new book before. That was an emotional moment. That idea of having books they could keep and read over and over again was magical and exciting."

A child and a teacher opening a Letterbox Club parcel together

During an Ofsted inspection at Westbrook Primary Academy, Ruth witnessed a rewarding interaction between an inspector and a child who had been receiving BookTrust's Letterbox Club.

"I watched them talk about the stories they'd been reading in class with such excitement," says Ruth.

"This student gave such an articulate response about why books are 'the best thing ever'. Seeing a child engage with a complete stranger in a suit about this topic, I felt that as a school community, we'd really succeeded in bringing joy and aspiration to children that were maybe struggling to find that – with the help of Letterbox Club."

Letterbox Club: Ruth's message for other schools

"I'd tell other schools exploring Letterbox Club for Pupil Premium students to just go for it," says Ruth. "As a school, it makes you feel you're able to offer something additional for families. It's something that's going to make a child feel very valued, that they're going to enjoy and engage with.

"I think the work BookTrust puts into curating the Letterbox Club packs is so valuable for the wider care of that child's development.

"As well as engaging them with a love of reading, it's about inspiring them to be excited about their futures and where they want to go.

"There are absolutely no drawbacks, only good things to come from it."

Find out how BookTrust's Letterbox Club could support your school's Pupil Premium students to develop a love of reading

Letterbox Club

Join hundreds of schools and local authorities using Letterbox Club to bring the magic of reading and numeracy to pupil premium and vulnerable learners age 3-13.

Find out more