Watching Wayne Rooney score a goal for England may inspire children to put on their boots, but it is his Manchester United team-mate Ashley Young who has got them to pick up a book.
Young is one of 20 footballers, including Joey Barton (pictured) who was filmed last year for the Premier League speaking about their favourite books as part of the National Literacy Trust’s Premier League Reading Stars programme.
Each star is filmed talking about the books they enjoy reading and setting three questions about a book for children to answer. The films are used to kick off a 10-week programme based in schools, followed by more than 37,000 children last year.
A report for the scheme, due to be published tomorrow, finds that three in four children were inspired to read just by seeing a Premier League footballer reading a book.
Dan Freedman, the author of eight Jamie Johnson football books, who has done workshops as part of the scheme, said he understood why some children needed that role model.
“Someone like Raheem Sterling [of Liverpool FC] is just so cool to the kids,” he said. “He is literally one of the top two or three players of his age in the whole world.
"Here is one of the people with the most street cred for students and to see him holding up a book like Holes by Louis Sachar [Sterling’s favourite children’s book] – that picture alone in the classroom is worth so many words.”
Footballers who have already signed up for this year include Emiliano Martinez, of Arsenal, and Joey Barton, of QPR, whose current favourite book is Plato’s Republic but who recommends that children might prefer the Jez Alborough picture book Some Dogs Do.
Children taking the programme have 10 sessions based on football delivered by teachers, teaching assistants or librarians. Each session includes new authors and types of reading materials.
The 2014 Premier League Reading Stars report finds that around 74 per cent of those taking part were boys and one in three were on free school meals.
Three quarters of children improved their reading during the scheme – with 36 per cent of children making one sub-level of progress in reading (equivalent to six months) during the 10 weeks, 22 per cent making a year’s progress and 14 per cent more than a year’s progress.
The programme, which is for children aged nine to 14, has been running in England since 2003. It is funded by the Arts Council England and the Premier League. This year, funding from the Welsh government, means the programme will also be running in Wales for the first time.
Schools can sign up to take part in this year’s programme here.
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