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Having a ball with books

ALiverpool school finds that given the right opportunities, boys like reading as much as other pursuits. Nicholas Pyke reports.

AFTER-HOURS clubs are popular at Campion school. Mostly these concern football and boxing: this, after all, is Liverpool 5, better known as Everton.

Campion is used to succeeding in the face of adversity. Its soccer teams, which once featured England star Steve McManaman, are feared throughout the North-west despite having no pitch of their own.

Now the 600-strong boys' school is preparing for a different sort of after-school club - one for reading.

Everton is not an obvious literary hotspot. The school is surrounded by empty land, fast roads and nondescript low-rise development. The terraced houses have disappeared, like the docks and the jobs.

More than 70 per cent of the pupils are entitled to free school meals, making Campion among the most deprived schools in Britain.

Campion's response has been to mount a comprehensive reading campaign. All boys are enrolled in a school-wide book scheme. Visits to the library are near-compulsory. Most of the younger pupils read aloud to their parents for 20 minutes a night.

Already Campion's efforts have been praised by Government inspectors.

Next term it will go one step further. With Pounds 2,000 from the Education Extra charity - sponsored by News International, publishers of The TES - the school is planning an after-hours reading club. There will be plenty of takers.

"They just can't get enough of books," says Deborah Mundy, the English teacher in charge of the project. "Anything and everything to do with new books and reading."

"We underestimated how easy it is to motivate them. Provide them with the right texts, give them the time, the opportunities to talk with each other about what they're reading, and they're away."

Already she has taken her Year 7 boys to Waterstones to spend some of the money. Many of them had never been in a bookshop before.

The results were surprising. "I thought we'd get 600 Goosebumps, 500 Roald Dahl and nothing else," she says. "But one them said ''ere Miss, where's the one's by that Charles Dickens?'." The request led to an abridged version of A Christmas Carol, published by Heinemann.

This week the Pounds 2,000 of books were on display. Football, cars and horror are "boss" among the boys. But in among the Stephen King, Premier League guides and a book called Creatures That Glow were tales of Greek and Maori legend, abridged versions of Shakespeare, illustrated guides to natural history and books of poetry.

It was one of these, Colin McNaughton's collection Making Friends with Frankenstein, that held three 12-year-olds for a full 20 minutes, reading aloud to each other in a way that some might think is impossible.

Nine secondary schools and 300 pupils are taking part in the reading clubs, funded with Pounds 18,000 from News International.

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