Britons urged to turn over a new leaf

National Year of Reading: Every baby to get a book as millions are put behind drive to raise levels of literacy

MINISTERS WANT to turn Britain into a nation of readers - with the help of television. Soap operas such as EastEnders, Coronation Street and Brookside will be used to promote the idea that reading is both essential and fun.

Everyone, from nine-month-old babies to 80-year-old pensioners, will be invited to take part in the National Year of Reading, which David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, launched yesterday.

He said: "This is a campaign for everyone. It aims to encourage parents, grandparents and friends to read and to get children to read and it is also about getting volunteers to be prepared to give a little time as mentors, both in and out of school."

Older people will also be given a chance to brush up their reading. Mr Blunkett said his own interest in reading had begun with the "politically incorrect" Biggles stories and Enid Blyton's Famous Five.

Then he read Jack London's White Fang and Call of the Wild. "It was inspirational. I loved the poignancy of it and the way he portrayed the best and most cruel elements of nature." Mr Blunkett announced an extra pounds 24m of money to pay for a pounds 1,000 book token for every school. It follows pounds 23m for books made available in January. Nearly pounds 60m will be spent on a new daily "literacy hour" in primary schools.

A pounds 1.8m television advertising campaign to encourage adults to read to children began last night and will run until the end of October. Last night's advertisement showed fathers reading with their children and was broadcast to coincide with the European Champions League match between Manchester United and Barcelona.

The need for a national year of reading is obvious, say ministers. In a recent survey Britain came third from the bottom in a literacy table of eight industrialised nations. According to the Office for National Statistics, 8.4 million Britons of working age (22 per cent) are incapable of comparing two pieces of information and one in four adults has very poor literacy standards.

Around 40 per cent of 11-year-olds are not reaching the expected standard in national tests in English. Particular efforts will be made to help boys, who lag behind girls in English throughout their school careers. Fathers will be encouraged to read with their sons and a month will be devoted to reading in sports, with the backing of Linford Christie and Alex Ferguson.

Parents will be able to obtain a free booklet of advice on how they can help their children to read by calling the freephone number 0808 100 50 60. Every baby will get a free book as part of a pounds 6m project funded by Sainsbury's in partnership with the charity Book Trust. The company is giving away 1 million books in a new national Bookstart programme.

In a pilot project begun six years ago with 300 Birmingham families, babies were given free books at their nine-month health check. Both their literacy and numeracy had benefited by the time they started school. Two years after receiving the books they were three times more likely to be interested in reading than those who had not taken part.

Other projects will aim to influence young adults. One will promote cult novels for 16-to-25-year-olds. Estelle Morris, the school-standards minister, said the improvement of literacy could not all be left to schools. "We need a culture change to make sure this country values reading in a way it has not done for many, many years."

Phil Redmond, executive producer of Brookside, said storylines including reading would feature in Brookside, Hollyoaks and Grange Hill during the year. He is keeping details secret but said a new family would be introduced into Brookside in November in which one member suffered from a reading disability.

The Conservatives attacked the use of soap operas. Peter Ainsworth, the culture spokesman, said: "This is an Orwellian nightmare which the viewer would find laughable and the licence-payer would reject as propaganda. What will we see next? Coronation Street used as a platform to promote the euro? Brookside as a vehicle for the New Deal?"

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the money was welcome and he expected schools would spend most of it on fiction for their libraries, which had been depleted by recent cuts. With discounts, that would mean about 200 new books for each school. "The challenge is to get children reading books in this age of computer games and wall- to-wall television."

Mr Blunkett said he would judge the success of the year by the shift in attitudes to reading. That might be measured by the number of books borrowed from libraries or sold in shops. Book sales had already risen since the Government began to highlight literacy problems, he added.

Leading article,

Review, page 3

Parents must teach reading,

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk