Millions of people have heard Alan Duff's name through his books and
especially "Once were Warriors" and now "What becomes of the Broken
Hearted?" In these books and films he shows his understanding of the
difficult lives of disadvantaged families. Not so many people are
the work he has done to help the children in such families by setting
the "Books in Homes" Programme.
Alan Duff's "Books in Homes" Programme - how valuable is it?
Emeritus Professor Warwick Elley evaluates the scheme.
If you are interested in the work of Warwick Elley in the field of literacy,
read this article.
The "Books in Homes" Programme, popularly known as the "Duffy"
was started by Alan Duff in 1992, primarily to provide books for
in bookless homes. It now operates in over 160 low-income schools
donated over 450,000 good quality books to the pupils in these
The scheme is organised by a small staff in Penrose, Auckland, under
direction of Christine Fernyhough, and its policy is formed by a ten
trust of prominent Maori and business leaders. The books are provided
Scholastic Books Ltd. and chosen by the pupils, with guidance from
teachers and parents. The books are promoted in the schools by
HERO role models, mostly from the sporting and media world. The
take the books home, to keep and often share them with family and
The Programme is funded by a number of corporate sponsors and other
agencies, and more recently by Government grants. Following the
to put Government money into the scheme, in 1996, the Research
the Ministry of Education called for a formal evaluation of the
I submitted a proposal to do this and I was subsequently invited to
undertake the evaluation. The project was funded by the Ministry of
The philosophy behind the scheme is that children are more likely to
develop the reading habit if they own some good quality books that
call their own. Without books around them they are unlikely to see
as a very important part of their lives. Children who come from
homes do not become high achievers, according to Duff. He argues that
many Maori and Pacific Island children come from such a background,
determined to do something about it. As he put it in his well-known
"Once were Warriors", such kids "didn't stand a show in this modern
not a damn show".
The plan which evolved in Camberley School, in Hastings, where the
first started, was that all children in the school would receive a few
books every year, that they would be promoted in the school by
popular role models, and that additional books could be earned by a
being Good" programme. Children would be given extra books each month
"being good", however that was defined in the school.
The evaluation focussed on the impact of the Duffy books and the role
visitors, on the pupils, schools and communities in which it had been
instituted. In this article I outline the findings of three formal
designed to assess this impact, and of several other indicators of the
effects of the Programme.
The main sources used to gather information were as follows:
1. Questionnaire surveys of all schools
These were carried out in September 1996 and September 1997. These
were initiated by the staff of "Books in Homes", who released all the
response sheets for me to study. This analysis showed that the "Books
Homes" Programme was very popular in the schools. Most children had
received the books that they had ordered, and in those cases where
not, the children were pleased with the substitutes. A few were
disappointed. The Scholastic books were very popular with children,
teachers and parents. The role models who visited the schools to
distribute books were largely effective in transmitting their message
the importance of reading, and teachers believed that the impact on
pupils was very positive.
2. A series of targeted interviews
These were conducted with principals, teachers and pupils in a
representative sample of twenty schools and confirmed the positive
revealed in the questionnaire surveys.
* Principals were confident that the scheme was operating smoothly in
school, role models were rated as excellent, and all were keen to
with the Programme into the second cycle, despite some difficulties in
raising funds. I believe that this fact is a significant index of
* Teachers were generally happy with the quality of the books, most
some time promoting them in class before pupils took them home, most
believed that the impact on pupil attitudes and reading habits was
positive, and some thought that reading abilities had also improved.
role models and the Duffy character and theatre groups were all rated
highly. The "Caught Being Good" Programme was having a wholesome
pupils' behaviour. Some found difficulty in selecting books unseen,
recommended that a sample pack of the books on offer be sent to each
before choices were made. Teachers rated the programme as most
* Pupils could recall the names of 81% of the books they had
They had read about half "right through", and some more than once.
other members of the family had also shared the books. Some 70% of
said that the Duffy books had helped their reading "a lot"; 64% said
Duffy Programme was 'Great" or "Cool", and nearly 90% were able to
what the message of the visiting role models was.
3. Two surveys of pupil achievement and attitudes
With the help of my research assistant, Michael Satele, I conducted
surveys of pupil achievement and attitudes in a sample of all the year
and 6 pupils in eight new schools, just before, and twelve months
they joined the Programme. The tests and questionnaires were
for the project.
These surveys showed:
* a significant improvement in the average reading skills of the
who participated. This increase was found in every school. More
specifically, those who were present on both occasions had improved by
more than they would have without the Duffy Programme. It is probable
this increase would be cumulative over time, as the books become more
widely read in the homes.
* a significant improvement was found also in pupil interest in
as indicated by a questionnaire on their reading habits and their
4. Additional sources of information
* Surveys of parents' attitudes were very positive.
* An additional book order scheme, organised through the schools,
large increases in spending by parents.
* The effects of the Programme on the children and community of
School, where the Programme started in 1992, were very positive and
appeared to increase over time. The community appeared to benefit as
vandalism and truancy rates dropped dramatically, and parents were
more cooperative with school authorities. Many parents became
The overwhelming impression gained from all these sources of evidence
that the "Books in Homes" Programme has been very successful. It has
operated as intended in the schools and has improved the attitudes,
habits and reading skills of pupils in the participating schools.
the impact on reading ability is still relatively modest, there are
indications that it will increase over time as the flow-on effects can
already be seen in the parents and younger siblings of the pupils in
Programme. The few recommendations for change in the operation of the
scheme have mostly been implemented and virtually all schools are keen
see the Programme extended. When I asked teachers whether it might
more sense to spend the money on books for the school library, every
the said no, usually with emotion. "Book ownership for these children
The Alan Duff Charitable Foundation, the corporates and other
school visitors, the teachers and the office staff working under the
direction of Trustee Christine Fernyhough have taken Alan Duff's
donating books to book-deprived homes and translated it into a
and effective policy for raising literacy levels in low income