Giving employees the ‘Time to Read’

With so much focus on education and development in recent years, we often take it for granted that everyone has good literacy skills. The reality, however, is somewhat different.

One in 10 children now leave Irish primary school with serious literacy difficulties. In disadvantaged schools, that figure rises to one in three according to data from the Educational Research Centre.

If children are below average reading standard at aged seven to eight the outcomes for their school performance and achievement are markedly lower throughout the rest of their academic life and in their subsequent employment opportunities.

This challenge is increased by reductions in funding at primary school level in recent years, limiting both the individual attention and resource supports that schools can provide for these children. This situation naturally stirs frustration. But what can we actually do to make a real difference for these children?

Helping to solve the problem

Recognising the need to support the system and the workforce of the future, Business in the Community Ireland (BITC) launched the country’s first nationwide business to schools reading initiative, Time to Read, in 2013.

The concept is simple, but very effective. Volunteers from participating businesses, such as ESB, are assigned to primary schools in their local community where they spend time each week reading with seven and eight-year old children.

The programme aims to increase enjoyment of, and confidence in reading whilst encouraging self-discovery for the participating children. All business volunteers who partake in this programme receive comprehensive training in advance.

Each weekly session consists of the volunteer reading one-to-one for 30 minutes with two children. The children and their volunteers and parents then have a visit to their local public library and a workplace visit of all the children to the participating company. The business and child impact is measured and a report provided to each participating business at the conclusion of the programme.

Why Support Matters

Companies play a key role in supporting our young people to develop their skills for tomorrow’s workplace, whether that is IT or literacy skills. “We, in common with many other Irish companies, need access to staff with strong literacy skills and this is grounded in getting our young people off to the best educational start possible,” explains Anne Cooney, ESB’s Corporate Responsibility lead.

With education access and support at the heart of its corporate social responsibility programme, ESB was a natural fit to sponsor this ambitious initiative.

Almost 70 trained ESB employees across the group work with seven schools each week. Indeed, there is often a waiting list amongst employees to participate.

“It’s wonderful to help children go from being scared to read to really enjoying the experience and wanting to do more,” says Carol Quinn, an ESB volunteer. “The relaxed environment and one-on-one experience really helps the children learn and develop.”

While the children naturally benefit from this one-on-one support, companies are also reaping from its success. “It’s great for an organisation in terms of staff engagement – our volunteers enjoy the opportunity to participate and bring great positivity and enthusiasm back to our workplace – and we all benefit from that,” explains Anne Cooney.

ESB Time to Read Partnerships

  • ESB Networks Wilton – Glasheen Girls National School, School Avenue, Glasheen, Co. Cork
  • Electric Ireland and ESB Networks Finglas – St. Kevin’s Boys National School, Barry Avenue, Finglas West, Dublin 11
  • ESB Headquarters Dublin & ESB Networks Clanwilliam – St. Patrick’s Girls National School, Cambridge Road, Ringsend, Dublin 4
  • ESB Headquarters Dublin – St. Laurence O’Toole Girls National School, Seville Place, North Wall, Dublin 1
  • ESB Headquarters Dublin – St Mary’s National School, Windsor Avenue, Fairview, Dublin 3
  • ESB Networks Leopardstown – Queen of Angels National School, Limes Road, Wedgewood, Dublin 16
  • ESB Networks Enniscorthy – Glenbrien National School, Glenbrien, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford