Pupils and staff at Hunter’s Bar Infant School are infectiously enthusiastic about books. So it was apt that out of thousands of schools across England they were chosen to launch the ‘500 word story’ competition on BBC Radio 2’s breakfast show.
Recordings of the children and staff, along with their choice of songs, will be broadcast to millions of listeners tomorrow during a 45-minute slot presented by Zoe Ball.
They are representing not just Hunters Bar and Sheffield, but the whole of England as the only school to be chosen in the country. There is also a school each from Scotland and Wales, whose contributions are being broadcast at a different time.
Teacher Claire King, who recorded the children’s voices, said they made about 50 clips for the show including individual pieces from staff and pupils, as well as recordings of the whole school featuring more than 250 children.
“It’s a big focus for us because if they can read and enjoy it they can access all the other parts of the curriculum,” she said.
“This has fired up lots of our children to have a go at writing their own stories for the competition in a way that we have never been involved before.
“It’s great for the fact that, for a change, it’s the children’s imagination that matters most. Sometimes when they’re writing they won’t always write the words in their head because they don’t know how to spell it and are worried about getting it wrong. With this they don’t have to know how to spell it, they can just have a go.
“They all have great ideas, but often with the way education is they have targets that they need to hit and it’s nice that it’s just fun.”
For the recordings, the children and staff spoke about their favourite books and authors and made a list of song suggestions which were played on the show. Tracks submitted included Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, Dancing Queen by ABBA, Shotgun by George Ezra and songs from the Greatest Showman soundtrack.
Albert, aged seven, took part in the recording and said he was planning to write a story about a magical mystery. He said: “It’s really good. It’s not about handwriting, it’s just about imagination. It was fun doing the recordings, I spoke about my favourite stories. I like Roald Dahl books, my favourite is the Twits.”
Catherine Carr, headteacher, said the whole school community including parents got involved with the recordings and song choices.
Hunters Bar was chosen after previous work with the BBC when the children tested virtual reality books with Twinkl, a Sheffield-based educational resources company.
Ms Carr said: “It’s because of all the work we’d done via other companies so they remembered us and recognised us as a school who promoted writing and reading. They passed our details on and that’s how we got chosen.”
The school gives out awards for reading. Once a child has read 40 things – be it a book, a recipe or a menu – or 60 reads for year one pupils, they get a certificate in a celebration assembly which happens weekly.
They also have an award for ‘extreme reading’ where children have to send in a photograph of themselves reading somewhere unusual – entries have included on a rollercoaster, on skis, in an ambulance and in a tree.
When a bell rings children have to ‘drop everything and read for a while’ – a time known as DEAR.
They also read, write and create animations on iPads as part of their learning. Ms Carr said parents played their part by reading to their children at home.
Ms King added: “The children will read and be read to in some form every day. It’s just about encouraging them to read for fun as it opens every door, once they can read they can access everything.”
From today children aged five to 13 can submit 500-word stories to BBC Radio 2. Last year around 135,000 children entered the competition.
The tales will be judged by members of the public and celebrities including Chris Evans – Zoe’s predecessor as breakfast show host – and the Duchess of Cornwall. The winner will get a stack of books the height of Evans, 500 books for their school and enjoy an awards ceremony with celebrities – plus a special illustrated copy of their story printed by royal bookbinders.
Visit www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rfvk1 to find out about the contest.