Katie Tilley, Early Years and Primary Consultant, Lambeth Virtual School, Lambeth Council

'I’ve had a lot of different experiences, from working as a primary school teacher, education consultant and as a numeracy consultant that have ultimately led me to working with the Virtual School Team in Lambeth.'

'I’m currently responsible for Looked After Children from early years through to Year 5 and over time I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of our children quite well, as they have progressed through their primary schools.'

How Lambeth uses Letterbox Club

'Lambeth Virtual School has been purchasing BookTrust’s Letterbox Club for Looked After Children for eight years now. This has meant that our team have really been able to understand the philosophy and thinking behind the contents of the book parcels and to see that they offer something a little different to some of the other products and resources available. So much so that we decided this year that we wanted every child in every year group to receive the parcels, so we are now buying it in for every year group. We also aim to order enough, so that we can make sure that children who come into care over the year, are also able to receive the parcels.'

About the parcels

'The books and resources in the BookTrust parcels are really user friendly. Within any year group there is always going to be a range of understanding and abilities and the contents of the book parcels can be used flexibly. Some of the books are designed to be read to, and with, a child by an adult carer, whilst others are for more independent use.'

'And it’s not just the books, it’s the maths activities as well. Having previously worked as a numeracy consultant, I can recognise good maths activities and, the idea of using games to engage children and to potentially support them in their learning, in a fun and practical way; as well as providing further opportunities to help children to develop their social skills and their relationships with their carers.'

'At our multidisciplinary meetings I always ask the families “Have you had your Letterbox parcels?” and the enthusiasm and response from foster carers is excellent. The children really enjoy getting their parcel and, if we are ever in the position to share some of our additional resources with colleagues they are similarly well received.'

Importance of books and reading

'Reading is important for children because its primarily a life skill and you can be genuinely disadvantaged if you can’t read. But reading also has the potential to be so much more than a life skill. For some children it can offer them the chance to visit a new or different world, (whether real or fantasy) and, some emotional respite from everything else that might be going on around them. Other children might want to see and find themselves being reflected in the content of what they are reading.'

'That’s why the content of the books is so important. I really appreciate the amount of thinking that BookTrust puts in to choose the books included in the parcels. They involve a wide range of people in their book selection panels– from education professionals to foster carers, so you get a good cross section of experience.'

Looked after children’s experience with books and reading

'The children we work with have undoubtedly had quite a varied experience with books. Some children won’t have had much, if any, experience with books, especially some of our younger children. Others might have had a lot of experience with books and excelled at reading. Some, or all of them, may well have used reading as a means of escape, or a time in which to take refuge.'

Types of books suitable for looked after children

'It’s important to consider what kinds of books are suitable. We want to avoid any books with stereotypes in them and the language they use is important. We want books that show a range of different family relationships, not just conventional families. Lambeth is a very diverse borough and, the world is also a diverse place, so it’s important for a child to be able to see this reflected in the books.'

'Books can help children to talk about something painful for them but be one step removed because they are talking about a character in the book, rather than themselves specifically. Some of the books we receive from BookTrust are there purely just for fun and, for children and their carers to appreciate the pleasure of reading or being read to.'

'It’s the variety of kinds of books and the people, information and characters in the books that is important for us.'

Impact of BookTrust parcels

'Looked after children can often be behind their peers with regard to the curriculum and age-related expectations, so there can sometimes be a lot of pressure on them at school, to learn their phonics, or to learn to read independently.'

'We recognise that schools are under pressure to meet academic targets and we like the Letterbox Club because it’s an opportunity for those children who might be struggling with the reading process, to read for pleasure. It also supports carers with the idea that it’s still ok, if not essential to read to their child while they are in the process of learning to read independently.'

'Whilst we set measurable numeracy and literacy targets for looked after children, we don’t have the same measures when it comes to monitoring emotional health and wellbeing. If we can make a difference to children and help them with their emotional health before they get older, then potentially their transition into secondary school won’t be so difficult.'