Ministers want to turn Britain into a nation of readers. The National Year of Reading, which begins in September, aims to change a culture which has turned away from books to television and videos. Ministers say that by 2002, 80 per cent of 11-year-olds should have reached the expected standard in reading; the present figure is 62 per cent. They also want to boost Britain's economic performance by improving adult literacy skills. About 20 per cent, or more than 7 million, have difficulty with reading.
A White Paper for lifelong learning due out next month will begin to tackle adult reading difficulties. The focus will not only be on books. Ken Follett, writer and chairman of the National Year of Reading group, said: "We don't mind what people read: it could be newspapers, magazines, a website on the Internet or the back of the cornflakes packet. It could even be a Jeffrey Archer novel."
Reading will be promoted through television. Yesterday the Brookside stars Claire Sweeney and Sam Kane pledged support for the year and Brookside's creator, Phil Redmond, promised that from September the series' storyline would include encouragement of reading. He said literacy had been a regular theme in his programmes since the start of Grange Hill. Susie Harrison, a Brookside character, nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning because she could not read the warning notices on a fire. Chanel 4's The Big Breakfast and BBC's Ready, Steady, Cook will will also feature literacy events and issues. Under the Government strategy, literacy problems will be tackled almost from birth. The Basic Skills Agency is funding Book Trust, the charity, to encourage parents to share books with their children from the age of nine months. The Government wants parents to read to them for 20 minutes every night. Fathers will be encouraged to read with their children after research by Exeter University showed that boys are switched off reading because they believe it is a feminine activity. Several projects run by the Basic Skills Agency are paving the way. A pounds 4m family literacy programme will aim to teach under-achieving parents to read alongside their children. Schools will introduce a daily literacy hour and ministers are to issue guidance to teachers on the best ways of teaching reading.
Yesterday David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, said each school would get pounds 1,000 extra for books, a total of pounds 23m on top of the pounds 59m already announced for literacy. Mr Blunkett, whose own literary enthusiasms range from the classics to Laurie Lee, Elias Peters and poetry said: "We are determined to transform the nation's attitude to reading. To turn the page of a book is to open a window on the world. "
r Books recommended for the under-ones by the Book Trust are Peek a boo, by Jan Ormerod, published by Bodley Head; Tickle Tickle, by Helen Oxenbury, published by Walker; Dinosaur Roar, by Paul and Henrietta Strickland; Ragged Bears Being Together, by Shirley Hughes, published by Walker; The Wibbley Pig books, by Mick Inkpen, published by Hodder; Kipper's Book of Numbers (or colours, or weather) by Mick Inkpen, published by Hodder.
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