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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK


Read all about it

The literacy hour is a key part of the government's strategy

A recent survey found that nearly a quarter of British adults were unable to follow basic written instructions. BBC News 24's Sarah Ball examines the government's drive to improve levels of literacy.

See Sarah Ball's report here
The annual literature festival in Chester is advertised as an opportunity to discuss the written word, but it appears to have passed many of the city's inhabitants by.

Asked about the last book they read, many have difficulty remembering.

"I just don't read them, I'm doing other things like TV and listening to radio," says one teenage girl.

"I used to read them a lot when I went to bed at night, but I've grown out of that now. I read magazines instead."

[ image: Robert Harris:
Robert Harris: "Reading is an experience unlike any other"
At one of the festival's literary lunches, author Robert Harris discusses the joys of reading.

"There's a quality of experience, reading a book, which is unlike any other," he says.

"What is important is for writers to reach out to their audience, especially to young people, to write books that people want to read, not simply to write books for other authors or literary critics."

There is no doubting his and other authors' enjoyment of the written word, but to ensure such enthusiasm is shared with future generations, the goverment is investing millions of pounds in its literacy strategy.

At Stanney Grange County Primary School in nearby Ellesmere Port, pupils are taking part in the literacy hour - one of the main planks of this strategy.

The hour, which happens every day of the school week, begins with 15 minutes of shared reading. The children take it in turns to read from an enlarged text and the teacher brings out particular grammatical points.

After working as a class, the children break into groups to do individual work, such as writing their own stories.

[ image: Conrad North:
Conrad North: "It's do this, do that"
Teacher Jane Dunseath is a supporter of the literacy hour.

"The more able children are very keen, the less able children like the fact that they're included in what we're doing," she says.

"It's making the children more enthusiastic about reading ... it's developing much more of a book culture."

The school's new headteacher, Conrad North, is a keen supporter of the government's literacy initiative, but has reservations about the prescriptive nature of the guidelines.

Both of them agree that if children are to become avid readers, parental encouragement at a young age is the key.

But the speed of the introduction of the literacy initiative worries those advising teachers, such as Cheshire education authority's English advisor, Michael Jones.

"Teachers are weary because there have been so many changes over the last decade - and there is a danger that we will put too much pressure on them."

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