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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December 2004, 14:52 GMT
Instilling a joy of reading
Veteran story-teller Michael Morpurgo at a reading session
Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo says instilling a "joy of reading" in young children would help address a widening gap in primary school reading standards.

The award-winning author of more than 60 children's books made his comments after education inspectors said "urgent action" was needed to close the gap.

He told BBC News the "great thing we've got to do" is to devote time in schools and in wider society to telling stories, which would foster a love of books in children.

He said there should be 30 minutes at the end of every school day "where teachers have time and room simply to tell a story, to read a story, so that the children can get to love them".

"The key is they have to love the stories."

He added: "The only way we can get children hooked on the idea of a book being fun, of a book being moving and a book being exciting, is to do that when they're very young".

The fact is Jackanory went the way of all flesh
Author Michael Morpurgo

Mr Morpurgo said "all the business about punctuation and spelling" would then make sense, but that "you have to get the joy there first".

Below standard

An Ofsted report said improvement on reading in schools was being marred by a growing gulf between schools that successfully tackled weaknesses and those that did not.

Former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead told BBC News that a quarter of 11-year-olds had not currently reached the required standard of reading when they began secondary school.

"They are children that tend to truant, cause trouble in secondary school, because they can't cope with the demands of the curriculum, " he said.

Mr Woodhead said moves such as literacy hours had seen progress but were not proving as successful as had been hoped.

Jackanory gone

Mr Morpurgo said some teachers did not have enough enthusiasm for books and that a "joy of reading" module could be included in teacher training.

Parents should also read to their children, he said.

"It is a society thing. The fact is Jackanory went the way of all flesh. It has gone. Why has it gone?

"Television should be doing something about it. There should be a slot on radio every single day," he said.

Chris Meade is the director of Booktrust, which organises reading projects including a national books for babies programme, as well as a scheme bringing writers into schools.

'Golden age'

"Writers can really get children excited about reading," Mr Meade said.

"Creative writing and creative reading go together. It is a powerful way of getting children interested."

He added: "Bedtime reading is one of the joys of parenthood, and everyone loves being read to. It is something people should keep doing."

He said parents should look out for books "that really work".

"Harry Potter books have influenced a whole generation, which will have long-term repercussions for reading, but there are so many writers out there.

"It really is a golden age of children's writing".

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