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Plan to age-band children's books is 'dumbing down'

Literacy experts in Scotland have joined authors' calls for publishers to scrap their plans to "age-band" children's books, claiming the practice could turn children off reading and might even lead to bullying of struggling readers.

From this autumn, a number of publishing houses plan to introduce "age- banding" of their books, with each book carrying a specific marking, indicating their suitability for readers aged 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+teen.

However, Tommy MacKay, the educational psychologist behind West Dunbartonshire's groundbreaking literacy initiative, says there is little point in age-banding books, given that reading ability of children of the same age can vary widely. "In the middle years, a child's reading age can easily be one-and-a-half years either side," he said.

Children, he argued, should have the freedom to explore books and find their own level when already "so much of life is ordered and regimented".

Reading texts only deemed suitable for their age, he continued, could lead to youngsters becoming bored and their aspirations being "dumbed down".

"It has been shown that where there is the greatest learning curve is not when people are working in their comfort zone, but when they are working outside it."

Judith Gillespie, chair of the Scottish Labour Party's literacy commission and development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said age- banding would only be of use to "grannies" and could end in children who were found reading a book deemed suitable for someone younger "getting a right slagging".

She added: "Kids of different ages might go up or down to read a book but would be very reluctant to go down to 7+ if they were 10 and struggling. People who know about children's literature know the level a book is pitched at. This would only really be of use to grannies and so on, and they can ask the people selling the books for advice."

Authors have also made their feelings known. More than 750 have signed an online petition, set up by Philip Pullman, the best-selling author of the trilogy His Dark Materials. It describes age-banding as "ill-conceived" and "damaging to the interests of young readers".

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