How Dolly Parton played a part in Doncaster primary schools achieving amazing KS2 results

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library sends free books to children aged 0-5 if parents sign up
Dolly Parton's Imagination Library sends free books to children aged 0-5 if parents sign up

Doncaster has climbed off the bottom of the Yorkshire & Humber results table after borough primary school children made huge improvements in all areas.

Hard working pupils, teachers, teaching assistants, heads and education brains at Doncaster Council take the credit. But one American singing global star is also recognised in playing their part in that success.

Executive principal Beryce Nixon with children at Edlington Victoria

Executive principal Beryce Nixon with children at Edlington Victoria

Dolly Parton in most circles is know for her country ballads, but council education bosses give special mention to her 'Imagination Library' scheme where parents sign up and their children receive an age appropriate book for them to read - free of charge.

Some parents in Doncaster have even signed their children up as soon as they were born and the borough is one of the largest participants in the scheme in terms of the number of children on the register.

Along with Doncaster Council's reading strategy which includes simple, yet effective measures like parents reading with their children at home, the borough has seen a great improvement in Year 6 results.

The headline figures show:

Reading, writing and maths – improved by a huge seven per cent compared to the national average of three per cent.

Key Stage 2 reading – improved by 7.1 per cent compared to the national average of four per cent.

Key stage 2 maths – improved by three per cent. compared to the national average of 0.5 per cent.

Key stage 2 writing – improved by 3.6 per cent compared to the national average of 2.5 per cent

Grammar, punctuation and spelling – improved by three per cent compared to the national average of one per cent.

Leanne Hornsby is the assistant director of commissioning and business development.

She has a lengthy title but education is a huge part of her portfolio.

"Improving reading rates was absolutely vital for us," she said.

"The strategies that we've put in place are now have meant children are reacting to that and we've seen massive improvements. Looking at reading over a two-year period, that's a 15 per cent increase - that is very significant for us.

"That's all about targeting - 35 schools we focused on specifically - some of them saw a 20 per cent increase.

"The Imagination Library has also been a key factor for us. It's not just a case of looking at age 11 but it's about starting to get children to read before they hit primary school.

"Our rate of improvement is greater than the rest of South Yorkshire - the area has seen results from staying static to a four per cent increase so we compare quite favourably.

"What it also means is that we've moved off the bottom of the Yorkshire & Humber table. We've jumped up a couple of places.

"We're not taking this for granted at all but we want this to be that spring board for further improvement by working in those collaborative partnerships and keeping in line with the strategies that we've set out."

The reading strategy includes working with heads and English leads to review provision for reading, how it is taught and to improve book stocks in schools.

There's been a move in the 'reading culture' in schools with a 'big drive on reading for pleasure'. This has been extended from working to make full use of the Dolly Parton books in early years to encourage use of community and school libraries.

The plans also includes working with primary schools to involving parents in not just hearing their children read but reading to them and to 'clarify expectations' of what it is to be a good reader by the age of 11.

Doncaster, along with other areas such as Blackpool, Ipswich, Derby, Oldham, Bradford and Stoke-on-Trent, we're chosen by the Government to become a 'social mobility opportunity area in 2017.

The borough was chosen as it ranked 301st our of 324 council areas on the social mobility index. The SMI compares the chances that a child from a disadvantaged background will do well at school and get a good job.

The scheme was about bringing the council and external partners to boost outcomes for children across the borough. It's been attributed as a factor to the improving Key Stage 2 results.

One group of schools who've benefited from the Exceed Academy Trust which run Edlington Victoria Academy and Hilltop Academy.

They've seen some increases of 20 per cent in certain areas.

"We're really proud of what we do and the hard work from the staff and children has paid off with great results.

"We've seen big improvements and it's great to see but we need to keep going.

"It shouldn't matter that a child is from a disadvantaged background - they should all have the same opportunities to thrive in their education."

Damian Allen, director for people at Doncaster Council, said: “It is fantastic to see that the work that we, our partners and all the schools and young people have put into transforming education in Doncaster is finally starting to pay dividends.

“We have worked very hard to develop a number of strategies to help provide schools and parents and carers with the tools to make real changes for young people, we have also been building stronger relationships with academies.

"We will now build on this work for the coming years to ensure that our results improve year on year and we continue to provide positive outcomes for all young people in the borough.”

Coun Nuala Fennelly, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “The recent Key Stage 2 figures are very good news for the borough and I want to congratulate all the young people and their parents and carers for all the hard work and commitment they have shown.

“We are committed to ensuring that all young people have access to the best education and skills they need to live happy and fulfilling lives.”