COUNTY NEWS: New top dog in the classroom

A new member of staff has quickly become top dog at a primary school in Sussex.

Reading Dog Hugo SUS-160410-095403001
Reading Dog Hugo SUS-160410-095403001

St Thomas’s Primary School in Winchelsea has recruited Hugo the reading dog who is playing an important role in helping pupils to read out loud.

Rather than barking out orders, Hugo is happy to sit quietly and listen to the children reading to him.

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The Church of England school says Hugo has been appointed the job of reading dog, to enrich the reading experiences of the children and comes into the school once a week to hear the pupils read.

He is used as an incentive for children to read more at home; those pupils who make a great personal effort with their reading, get to read to Hugo.

Additionally, it is hoped that children who may feel a little self-conscious about reading, will also gain in confidence when reading to less judgemental ears.

Carol Gardiner, the acting Head teacher of the school, has high hopes for the initiative, and commented: “As Hugo settles in more to school life, we will hopefully see great development and improvement in the children’s reading.”

Hugo is one of many initiatives that the school is trialling to encourage a love of books and enjoyment of reading for St Thomas’ pupils.

It has certainly gone down well with all the school children, as Margot in year 4, enthusiastically explained: “He’s a really nice dog, very calm and quiet. It’s a really good idea because it’s so unusual. Not everyone gets to read to a dog in school!”

Hugo is a three-year-old, white, Labradoodle, owned by Lisa Fisher, one of St Thomas’s Teaching Assistants.

Lisa believes that Hugo is perfect for the role of reading dog, and said: “He is very relaxed and he’s a family dog so he loves small children.”

The school says the message is clear – reading is fun and can open up a whole new world of experience, even for dogs.

It is thought that Hugo is the first reading dog to be used by a school in the Rother area but on a wider scale dogs are being used increasingly in schools to help improve children’s literacy.

The idea has proved so popular that Pets As Therapy, which operates a scheme called Read- 2Dogs, now has 200 schools on its waiting list.

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