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Pupils to advise ministers on reading

Pupils are to be the latest recruits to a Government task force, this time for the National Year of Reading.

The Department for Education and Employment is trying to find the magic formula to make reading "fun and appealing" to all age groups. Children's views are being sought to help ensure that the massive initiative gets off to a flying start in September.

Over the next seven months small groups of children from across the country will be invited to meet Professor Michael Barber, head of the DFEE's school standards and effectiveness unit, to tell him what they think about reading and education.

It is not the first time ministers have chosen children as advisers. The New Millennium Experience Company is asking teenagers to tell them what should be in the Dome, and a design consultancy involved in the exhibition has been listening to an eight-year-old's views.

Professor Barber told a conference to launch the year: "We have to involve young people in the planning as much as possible. That means all sorts of things from using the Internet to the maximum, convincing and training volunteers, and actually meeting some children and young people and hearing their opinions first hand."

As well as the focus groups a national roadshow is "imminent" as is an Internet Web site. From the end of February a monthly newsletter will be sent out to all interested teachers.

School standards minister Stephen Byers told delegates the British did not support reading, but that he believed the year could change the nation's culture.

He said: "We don't treasure enough the literary heritage of our country and our world. To open a page is to reveal a whole new world. That pleasure is denied to too many people. The National Year of Reading will ensure it becomes available to millions of citizens."

Mr Byers also urged local authorities to "write themselves into the script" for the year. He admitted the timing of the year and the recent announcement that all schools are to receive a Pounds 1,000 bonus to buy new books was "a paradox" at a time when local authority library budgets were being reduced. However, he said the initiative could reignite an interest in libraries.

* Pump-priming funding for projects related to the year is available for the next three years but the DFEE admits funds "are very limited". The closing date for this year's bids is March 1.

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