Page last updated at 17:36 GMT, Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Reading gets the glitzy treatment

By Hannah Goff
Education reporter, BBC News

Gordon Brown with young reading enthusiasts
Reading at home early is thought to be key to later educational success

When a national reading campaign gets a glitzy Downing Street launch, the message is clear - the prime minister is putting his full weight behind it.

But the sub-text behind the gathering of authors and celebrities has to be that the government is aware it has a serious problem on its hands.

Documentaries asking why Britain's children cannot read were barely off our television screens in 2007.

Even country singer Dolly Parton has been doing her bit to get youngsters reading on a recent trip to Yorkshire.

With primary school reading results in England improving little in recent years, teachers seem unable to get a persistent group of children to jump that ever-important reading hurdle.

Perhaps most alarmingly, England has slipped from 3rd to 19th in the league table of international comparisons of children's reading ability.

We realise that with the iPod generation that we need to look at different ways of accessing literature
Louise Kanolik
Librarian at Loxford Science and Technology College in Ilford

Analysis of the results found children were spending more time on computers and less time reading for fun.

This was something Children's Secretary Ed Balls picked up on at the launch of the National Year of Reading.

"Out of school, children are using the internet and computers, but too often they are playing games and not reading," he said.

Reading was being pushed out by the modern day of temptations of the internet, computer games and the scores of television channels targeting children.

Librarian at City of London Academy Laura Taylor said everybody blamed IT, but most school librarians now harnessed it to promote literacy.

"For example we get the children to do their own blogs," she said.

Her colleague, Louise Kanolik librarian at Loxford School of Science and Technology said her school was planning a pilot of e-book technology.

"We realise that with the iPod generation that we need to look at different ways of accessing literature."

iPod generation

The school is on the government's Building Schools for the Future programme and will be putting both a new library and technology at the heart of its rebuild.

But Mrs Kanolik says it is not just about allowing children to access words in the form that they are used to.

It is also about allowing them to read the kind of things they are interested in.

She said: "For example we don't have a problem with boys' reading because we realise they may like to read different things.

"Boys are collectors so they like series of books and they like to read them in order.

"We don't mind them reading computer magazines and football magazines like Match."

Both schools ensure their focus on reading is visible, with posters of teachers as reading mentors pasted up all around the school grounds.

Some of these challenge, in humorous ways, the notion that it is "sissy" for a boy to be "caught reading".

'Cool to read'

One features a science teacher looking agape at the camera which has caught him reading red-handed.

Another features a PE teacher with a basketball in one hand and a book, he apparently cannot put down, in another.

Both send the message that it is "cool to read books".

Richard Madeley
TV presenter Richard Madeley is backing the campaign

One of the biggest challenges of the reading campaign is its desire to tackle the "hard to reach", rather than to preach to the converted.

As author Tony Parsons put it: "Some of us grow up in homes with books, others grow up in homes without. It is easy for these children to fall behind."

For former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo the key issue is that young people are allowed to fall in love with books and literature.

He wants teachers to be given time to read aloud each school day, simply for the sake of enjoyment.

He suggested that this practice, so common to previous generations, had been lost to many schools in recent times.

"If the teacher has caught fire, then the children catch fire too," he said.

But the importance of the message sent out from Number 10 today was not lost on the youngsters involved in its launch.

As 11-year-old City of London Academy pupil Timothy Ekeh put it: "Some people might say it's not cool to read, but this - us being at Downing Street - shows them that it is."


SEE ALSO
TV threat to children's reading
08 Jan 08 |  Education

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