The Education and Employment Secretary sets out the radical agenda for The National Year of Reading which will be announced today

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The Independent Online
Improved literacy is the centrepiece of the Government's school standards crusade.

Today, we announce details of a major new drive to run from September - the National Year of Reading. It will be the most intensive national campaign ever, designed to transform standards of literacy and enhance the culture of reading.

We have already announced a pounds 59 m programme to improve teacher training and books available to schools from the autumn term.

The Year of Reading is part of the Government's National Literacy Strategy, designed to ensure that by 2002, 80 per cent of all 11-year-olds will reach the expected standards in English. The performance tables earlier this week showed that we are making progress - but that there is much work still to be done.

The Year will promote reading in all contexts across the community. It is important that parents read with their children, which is where projects such as the Basic Skills Agency's work with health visitors to provide Books for Babies is so important. It is also why a proportion of our pounds 59m will go specifically to supporting family literacy.

For far too long school libraries have been unable to restock with books. I have long been concerned about this - and the new government is taking specific action. Already we have announced that pounds 19m from our literacy strategy is to be spent on books. Chris Smith has said that the Millennium Commission is helping to provide copies of classic literature to all schools.

Today, I have a further important announcement - most schools in England will get pounds 1,000 each to spend immediately on new books - allowing them to buy up to 200 extra books each for their library. Smaller primary schools will get an allocation based on pupil numbers. In total, we are providing a further pounds 23m for books.

The National Year of Reading and the push to improve standards of literacy goes wider than schools and colleges. It is for everybody. We will be focusing on adult literacy during the year as well as improving school standards.

The Year will involve publishers and booksellers, the media, business and community organisations as well as the education world. Today I will be joined by Mersey TV's Phil Redmond and Brookside stars to help launch the initiative: storylines will feature on Brookside and Grange Hill - and I hope on other soaps. The National Year of Reading conference tomorrow hosted by Stephen Byers will bring these partners together and start the planning process.

It will consider and seek to build on some of the excellent schemes already running around the country, including work with Lloyds of London in reading schemes in Tower Hamlets and of Rolls-Royce and EDS with reading projects in Derby to provide books to 7-year-olds.

We will do all we can at the centre to support local efforts. We will continue to provide a clear national profile for the year and to draw on the expertise and experience of our advisory groups and the National Literacy Trust.

But success of the Year will depend crucially on partnerships forged at a local level. The Getting Ready planning guide that I will publish today provides ideas and a framework.