Labour tells parents: read to your children

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The Independent Online
Parents should read with their children for 20 minutes each night, Labour said yesterday.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said that a story before bedtime could lead to educational success as well as being a special moment for parents and children.

A Labour government would, he said, include the advice in national guidance on homework for all 7- to 11-year-olds as part of a reading revolution.

And it would encourage parents of children as young as eight months to share books and nursery rhymes with them.

The proposal for national guidance on parental reading is put forward in a report from the party's literacy task force, published yesterday.

Labour said that it will accept the report's recommendations that 80 per cent of all 11-year-olds should reach the expected standard in reading by 2001 and that all should do so after 10 years. Just 400 out of 20,000 primary schools reach the target at present.

"Very often the best homework is simply for the parent or someone else from home spending 20 minutes each day reading with the child or hearing him or her read," Mr Blunkett said.

He quoted the Bookstart project in Birmingham in which health visitors give a book-pack to mothers at the child's eight-month hearing test. The pack includes a book, poster, rhyme card, library card and information on local libraries.

Head teachers' leaders at the conference to launch the report in London were sceptical both about the literacy targets and the costings laid down in the report.

Professor Michael Barber, head of the Literacy Task Force which produced the report, says the retraining of all primary teachers to teach reading using methods proved to be successful would cost pounds 20m for each of four years and could be redirected from existing budgets.

There would be national recommendations to teachers on how to teach reading.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed the report as "inspirational" but added: "We think it's wholly unrealistic to believe that existing budgets can take the strain. Labour will have to put more money into training."

Mr Hart queried whether the target of 100 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching the expected level in reading was achievable. "I don't think even 95 per cent is achievable, though 80 per cent by 2001 is tough but achievable."

However, the report points to literacy programmes in the United States and in Australia which have succeeded with nearly all children. From 1999 there will be on-the-spot checks by inspectors to ensure that the scheme is working properly.

The report foreshadows a much slimmer national curriculum with a new emphasis on the basics including a literacy hour every day in all primary schools. It suggests that teachers should have greater discretion in other subjects when the curriculum is revised in 2000.

Mr Blunkett said: "It is a disgrace that over the last 18 years the Tories have failed to put in place a strategic plan to raise literacy standards."

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, pointed to government initiatives on teacher training and literacy. She said: "The work is all being done through Conservative policies which Labour has opposed."