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Boys focus of literacy hotline

More than 70 per cent of parents who telephoned a hotline for families worried about their children's literacy were calling on behalf of boys.

Now the Government-funded service is to be launched nationally as part of the National Year of Reading, and will be expanded to include numeracy.

A total of 369 parents rang the number during a six-week pilot in Sunderland last year. Three-quarters called about boys, and more than half were asking about children aged four to seven. Only one in 10 was calling about secondary children.

Most parents were concerned with reading, but more than 60 per cent were also worried about their child's writing and spelling.

The callers heard recorded advice, using the voice of GMTV presenter Lorraine Kelly. They were then sent a leaflet detailing further help such as where to find local family literacy schemes.

The Basic Skills Agency, which will administer the helpline, hopes to attract 50,000 callers a year.

Alan Wells, director of the agency, said: "This is to reassure parents who get concerned but wouldn't necessarily feel confident about going into school. Sometimes parents don't actually understand what their children are doing, or want to help but don't know how. As with health, sometimes you want information and advice, but you can't always face going to the doctor."

The hotline was advertised in football programmes, newspapers and local radio. More than half the callers were from social groups C, D2, and E, and 80 per cent were female.

Mr Wells said: "We didn't want to make it exclusive to certain groups. But if we are to raise national standards we've got to get to those parents who are concerned and want to help, but don't have the skills to do it without help. We won't do it by only targeting university graduate parents."

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