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Last Updated: Monday, 25 July, 2005, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Kelly to promise 27m free books
Ministers want children to be familiar with books before they start school
Children under the age of four are to be given free books, in a 27m initiative to give children a good start in literacy.

The project, to be announced on Tuesday by the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly, will distribute nine million books.

The book bags, to be given to families in England, will also include information about local libraries.

Ms Kelly's announcement will be part of a speech about the relationship between education and social mobility.

'Best start'

Under the Bookstart project, existing schemes to give books to babies will be extended to children aged between one and four years.

There will be three sets of book gifts for three different pre-school age groups.

Children aged up to one will receive a Bookstart for Babies pack, containing two baby books, a nursery rhyme placemat, advice on sharing stories a booklist and an invitation to join a local library.

For children aged one to two, there will be a Bookstart Plus pack, with a satchel-style bag, two books, a scribble pad and crayons, a booklist for toddlers and information about local libraries.

A Bookstart Treasure Chest will be given to three to four year olds, with the aim of encouraging the first stages of writing. This will include two books, an activity book, scribble pad and crayons.

Pre-school education is being seen as a priority by the government - with the belief that investment and intervention at the earliest stages can be more successful than trying to help children catch up when they are older.

'Stubborn core'

"All the evidence shows us that children whose parents are engaged in their learning do better at school," said the education secretary.

"Every child deserves the best start in life and there is no better time to get parents into the habit of reading with their child than when they are little."

A review of the teaching of literacy in England's primary schools was announced by Ms Kelly last month, following a critical report by the House of Commons education select committee which warned that a 17% failure rate in reading tests for 11-year-olds was "unacceptably high"

Techniques such as "synthetic phonics" - the building up of words from simple letter sounds - will be investigated, with a view to using them more.

A report from education watchdog Ofsted into reading standards had found that the literacy strategy in primary schools had brought improvements, but that there was a "stubborn core" of underachievement that needed urgent attention.

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