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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 15:34 GMT
TV threat to children's reading
By Hannah Goff
BBC News education reporter

Gordon Brown reads with some children
Reading is an "anti-poverty policy" says Gordon Brown
Children should spend less time playing computer games and more time reading with their parents, the Children's Secretary Ed Balls has said.

There was a danger that reading was getting pushed out by television, the internet and computer games, he warned

Flanked by Gordon Brown at the Number 10 launch of the National Year of Reading, Mr Balls said 15% of children were never read to by their parents.

The prime minister said reading was not just a joy, but a route out of poverty.

Out of school, children are using the internet and computers, but too often they are playing games and not reading
Ed Balls
Children's Secretary

He added: "It's not just the joy of reading, father-to-son or in the classroom.

"It's also the benefits of reading. It's probably one of the best anti-poverty, anti-deprivation, anti-crime, anti-vandalism policies you can think of."

Launching the nationwide campaign to get more adults and more children reading and enjoying books, Mr Balls made a plea to parents to spend more time reading with their children.

"Out of school, children are using the internet and computers, but too often they are playing games and not reading," he told the gathering of authors and representatives of reading projects.

There were now lots of different ways children could spend their time such as playing on their computers and watching numerous television channels, Mr Balls said.

"With more parents working, there's a danger that reading gets pushed out."

Plea to ministers

He added: "All parents have to strike the right balance. TV is great - children learn from TV.

"And, as parents, we all have to plonk our children down in front of the TV from time to time to make dinner.

"Computers are great as well but we have also got to make space for reading too."

Former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo asked for teachers to be given more time in school to "pass on the love of books" without having to have a learning outcome.

"My plea to ministers to give that time to free up teachers."

He suggested teachers could spend half an hour at the end of each day reading aloud to children simply for enjoyment.

Celebrity endorsement

"It's the time for letting children look out of the school window and dream."

He also argued that using phonics, a literacy method where words are broken down into sounds, to promote reading was "putting the cart before the horse".

"All of that is useless if there is no enjoyment," he said.

Mr Balls said: "Teaching the fun and enjoyment of reading - I think that is completely right and I want schools to be doing more of that."

TV presenter Richard Madeley said getting celebrities to promote reading to children would help ensure the campaign did not simply preach to the converted.

It would be great if figures like racing driver Lewis Hamilton came on board, he said, and explained they would not have been able to achieve what they did without learning to read.

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