An innovative hook to get parents helping their child with reading is paying off at Rongomai School.
The Otara primary trains parents in a teaching technique and hands out its secret weapon - beanbags for the home.
Families kick back on beanbags to flick through a book. It's a twist on an increasingly popular method of developing family literacy, in which parents often improve their own skills while helping their child.
Rongomai School principal Tina Voordouw, a self-confessed beanbag fan, said the results had shown a huge improvement.
"In 2003, before I got here, there was only 6 per cent of our Year 6 kids leaving reading at their chronological age," she said. "That's just really tragic."
The rate steadily climbed from 6 per cent in 2003 to 71 per cent last year.
Last year, a group of Year 5 students who started the year six months to two years behind in reading gained between 18 months and three years by year's end. The same 10 students will be tracked through this year to measure the programme's results.
Ms Voordouw aimed to get all students reading at their age level by the end of Year 6.
She said the beanbag idea sprang from a finding that having a quiet and comfortable space where a parent and child could read was more important than having a good book.
"A lot of our families, their homes can be really noisy because there's often a lot of family members."
The school is on Auckland Airport's flight path, and secured $50,000 for the project for two years from an airport fund.
It has since distributed 150 beanbags to 75 homes - which equated to about 70 per cent of the families with children at the school.
It trained the adults in a pause, prompt, praise teaching technique to use to encourage their child.
"They find once they start praising their child more for reading, they praise them more anyway," said Ms Voordouw.
"The whole dynamics of some relationships change around."
Personal invitations were being sent out to the remaining 30 per cent of families who had not joined in.
"Reading isn't always a priority when you've got health and wellbeing issues screaming at you," said Ms Voordouw. "We just take them when they are ready."
Although it was likely that some of those parents were illiterate themselves, they could still help. Adults used the method to ensure youngsters surpassed their own level of education.
A 2003 Education Review Office report noted the school's "history of variable performance". Its latest report, from August last year, observed rapid and deep change - including the closure of its immersion and bilingual Maori programmes - and a strong sense of "moving forward".
Ms Voordouw said the students were not only improving their reading - they tended to be happier.
"We've got a far more settled school because the kids are achieving."
The appeal of the humble beanbag is spreading - neighbouring Wymondley Road School has started giving out a beanbag and storage crates for children to make their own library corners at home.
Rongomai School is also part of Otara: the Learning Community initiative aimed at improving schooling in the area.
Another initiative, one of the biggest and most ambitious schemes in the country, is the Manukau Family Literacy Programme, launched in 2003 by the City of Manukau Education Trust and now expanded to include around 80 families in six low-decile schools.
The programme involves parents working towards an introductory certificate in early childhood teaching as they spend time reading with their children. Several other schools train and pay parents to spend a set number of hours a week as reading tutors.
* This year an international adult literacy study will show how far New Zealand has come in the past 10 years.
A 1996 survey showed New Zealand had similar literacy rates as Australia.
Where: Rongomai School, Otara.
What: Parents given beanbags to provide a comfortable place to help children with reading at home.
Why: Tackle the school's "tragic" reading record.
Result: 71 per cent of Year 6s left the school last year reading at their chronological age. In 2003, the figure was 6 per cent.
The most popular place in the house
Kimi Tumai and her two daughters sprawl on their reading beanbags most days after school and in the weekends.
"We do a lot of reading," says Mrs Tumai. She normally takes the red one - it's bigger - while Mii, 9, and Tani, 7, settle into the smaller, pink one.
Mrs Tumai went back to school last year to find out how to help her girls with their reading.
Among the lessons for parents was the pause, prompt, praise method, which encourages children to use a range of cues.
The pause means waiting for a few seconds to give the child time to think and a chance to work out an unknown word themselves.
If they still don't know, the prompt phase offers triggers, such as looking at the beginning of the word and discussing the letters and sound.
If needed, the tutor tells the child the word and asks them to read the sentence again, and this is where the praise comes in.
"It taught me a lot," says Mrs Tumai, who also helps out regularly on school trips.
She says her style is "calm" now and she doesn't expect the girls to learn a word simply by her saying it.
"I'll explain it to them, read it to them. I think they quite enjoy it."
Daughter Mii, who would "try to ignore reading", had some catching up to do, but with her mother's help she's done it.