Turning Pages

In 2015, Shannon Trust introduced Turning Page, a reading programme specifically designed for adults learning to read to Reading Plans in 124 prisons. It's a fresh, new, easy way for adults to learn to read, at their own pace, one to one a mentor. No teaching or specialist knowledge is needed to use it. Any prisoner who can read can sit and work through it to support another prisoner who is struggling to read.

It consists of 5 manuals which can be worked through at the pace of the learner in short bursts of 20 minutes at a time. Accompanying the Turning Pages manuals are 30 reading books, written to interest adult emergent readers. 

With built-in progress checks, Turning Pages allows adults to move forward through a set of friendly, structured phonics based manuals, as they learn to read.  The final manual of the Turning Pages series has built-in opportunities to read things found in everyday life such as menus, instructions on medication and job descriptions. In addition, it includes chances to develop strategies for skim reading, scanning for information, reading in detail and recognizing different text formats and features such as bullet points.

As important as learning the skills to read is the joy of reading for pleasure and so Turning Pages also includes a set of 30 graded reading books written for adults. From the very first manual people can pick up and enjoy a book for the first time. 

The response, from Learners, Mentors, prison staff and Shannon Trust volunteers has been overwhelmingly positive. This is backed-up by an external evaluation by Birmingham City University which recognizes its success in teaching adults to read. 

The Birmingham City University report looked at three questions:

How effective are the Turning Pages teaching methods in improving reading ability in adults? 

  • There was a significant improvement in reading words and non-words from the start to three months and from the start to 6 months. This suggests using Turning Pages helps Learners to develop decoding skills and improves word sight reading.  
  • Turning Pages improved the reading of all Learners regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, whether or not they had a learning difficulty or dyslexia or spoke English as an additional language.
  • The informal, adult focus of Turning Pages was important to Learners and Mentors. Learners saw one-to-one support from Mentors and a chance to work at their own pace as key factors for successful learning.      

How important are the delivery methods in prisons, quality of provision and the impact of the one on the other?

  • The number of reading sessions Learners had with their Mentors didn’t affect their reading progress. It is still recommended Learners are offered 5 sessions a week; however, Learners may choose to vary the number of sessions without it having a negative effect on their learning.
  • What Learners said about their reading ability and their enjoyment of reading correlated to how far they had progressed through the Turning Pages manuals at three- and six-month points. This suggests promotion of enjoyment and confidence in reading is important for Learners taking part in the Reading Plan.
  • Prisoner Mentors supporting Learners is central to the success of the programme. Mentors get to know their Learners and between them ‘negotiate’ the sessions or tailor their approach to suit them.
  • Learners were motivated by the fact that the reading plan sits outside formal education.

What are the wider outcomes for Learners and Mentors of involvement with the Shannon Trust Reading Plan?

  • Learners reported taking part in the Reading Plan had led to them to 
  • Reading a wider variety of text such as legal letters.
  • Reading to take part in everyday life in prison and for social engagement.
  • Re-engaging with learning, building confidence and working towards meaningful goals.
  • Focus group data also suggests that working with Turning Pages provided important chances for Learners and Mentors to exercise some control and choice in the otherwise highly regulated prison environment.