SOME had never used a pencil before, others had never had a book they could call their own.
Yet children in one of the most-deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland are celebrating after winning a national award for reading.
Annette Street Primary in the Govanhill area of Glasgow is one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the country.
As the bell rang at the start of the summer holidays on Tuesday, it signalled the end of an academic year which saw the multicultural school see off others from across Scotland to win a First Minister’s Reading Challenge Award last week.
For principal teacher Sam Howorth, 35, the award was recognition of a year-long drive to improve reading among pupils, many of whom come from eastern European countries.
Sam said: “Some kids might come here for P6 and P7 never having been to school. Or if they have, then the education they have had is not what we would recognise as education. Roma children are left in segregated classes where they’re not taught.
“A lot of our kids don’t have a culture of books at home because of the transient nature of their lives, they don’t have a lot of possessions. And a lot of our parents don’t have much money, so wouldn’t be able to prioritise luxury items like books.”
Part of the year-long “reading journey” saw kids visit Waterstones in Glasgow city centre after funding was secured from the Siobhan Down Trust, set up to encourage young people to overcome barriers to accessing language. A trip to a book shop in the digital age might not be high on the agenda of today’s average screen-addicted child. But Sam said: “A lot of our kids don’t have computers or digital technology. Most of them had never been to a book shop before. They were thrilled and spent hours there.”
Earlier this month, Education Scotland and the Scottish Book Trust distributed book bags to thousands of pupils across Scotland as part of Scottish Book Week, in a bid to increase engagement and improve learning at home.
But Annette Street Primary faces a special set of challenges. Sam said: “I’ve taught children how to hold a pencil in P4. One boy who came to the school had no knowledge of numbers, or English and have never held a pencil. By the time he left two years later, he was writing, talking, and his maths was fantastic.”
With support from the Government’s Pupil Equity Fund, Sam introduced new reading methodologies for the children.
He said: “If the children can’t say something then they’ll never be able to write it down. One of the principles of teaching English as an additional language is that pupils have to be able to say the words before they can write them.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose constituency includes Govanhill, presented pupils from the school with a trophy, £1,000 of book tokens and a bespoke artwork designed by illustrator Eilidh Muldoon at the awards ceremony in Edinburgh.