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Confessions of a chief inspector

Children who complain to their teachers about having to read too many books can expect sympathy from one of the most powerful figures in education.

David Bell, the chief inspector, admits in today's TES that, as a schoolboy, he was a reluctant reader who was turned off books.

"It may be a dangerous confession from the chief inspector of schools, but I wasn't terribly interested in reading when I was at school," he writes.

In an interview with The TES Mr Bell said he was unable to recall his first book. However, he remembered a "dire" primary-school reading scheme, called Wide Range Readers. "It put me off for years afterwards," he said.

The young David Bell was more likely to be found playing football than buried in a book.

His love of reading began to develop in the sixth-form when he would spend Tuesdays at the Mitchell library in Glasgow as he studied for his Scottish Highers, the equivalent of A-levels.

"I just loved the place; the smell of the books, people reading quietly and the sense that through books, the world was open to me," he said.

It was then that Mr Bell began to acquire the speed reading skills which have proved invaluable to him in his current post at the Office for Standards in Education where he has to wade through weighty reports.

His colleagues report that his leisure reading centres around "heavyweight" biographies, which he can finish reading in the time it would take most people to complete the opening pages. Indeed, Mr Bell, who has two daughters, confessed that his house sometimes resembles a reading factory.

As a teacher in the 1980s he developed a passion for children's books.

Current authors who have impressed him include Robert Swindells and Michael Morpurgo, the Children's Laureate.

One recent favourite is Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, although Mr Bell insisted that this is not his choice but that of Shona, his 12-year-old daughter.

Wide Range Readers, which was published by Longman, was a series aimed at primary children, containing a collection of stories of progressive difficulty.

A spokesman for the publishers said it was developed in line with research and classroom practice. The scheme was reprinted regularly between the 1950s and the 1980s but is now out of print.

David Bell 16

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