Asfa Sohail is Principal of Lewisham College, a further education college in south-east London that caters for more than 13,000 students. Here she explains how Reading Ahead has benefited the College's students
Hi Asfa, thanks for taking the time to speak to us today! Can you recall your first impressions of Reading Ahead when you joined as Principal?
I was really impressed. Our College has a lot of adult learners; it had a profound effect on them. People are able to read things that interest them. They really develop their reading skills, it's a really good initiative. Reading Ahead has given students the confidence to stand up and speak in public - it has given them pride.
I was so impressed by the speeches on the Reading Ahead prize-giving day at Deptford Lounge in June that I asked two students back to speak about their experiences of studying at Lewisham College - they were presenting in front of politicians and governors.
What is it about Reading Ahead that makes it especially suitable for ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) students?
I think it has encouraged ESOL learners to read beyond their normal texts. They have to use the library and get to know how libraries work. Reading Ahead gives them exposure to libraries and makes libraries more accessible. The ESOL course only goes so far - this helps with reading beyond the course.
What do students say about Reading Ahead?
Many of our students are from disadvantaged backgrounds and they really enjoy having access to resources. Some have gone on to read more than six books! They are reading books that they wouldn't have read before. The recognition from the prize giving ceremonies is so important - you can see how excited so many of them are.
How have tutors responded to the programme?
Tutors are very complimentary about the scheme. Our library team is very important - they do a lot of profile-raising for the initiative. Teamwork helps to raise awareness of Reading Ahead within the College.
What would you say to another College or adult learning organisation thinking about running Reading Ahead?
It will really benefit your learners. We are all seeking to get the best learning experience for our students and this is an opportunity not to be missed. It will develop their communications skills and their vocabulary. We very much plan on continuing to run Reading Ahead!
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