MICHAEL ROSEN, the new children's laureate, has kicked off his two-year appointment with an attack on testing and synthetic phonics. The 61-year-old poet wore a striped yellow T-shirt, black combat trousers and brown trainers for his inauguration at Bafta in London's Piccadilly.
His primary concern was poetry and picture books. Sales were dropping, he said, because schools did not feel free to provide a wide range of books.
He criticised the drive for synthetic phonics, saying: "There are many ways in which people learn to read. The idea that one way is supreme is a fib, an outrageous fib. Of course people use phonic cues and clues when learning to read - but don't make it exclusive.
"I also reject the notion that you can teach reading without books: there has been a huge push to create an environment in nursery and reception where books are secondary to the process of reading.
"If you are just given a list of words, then the emotional impact is that reading is dull. For example, we care about the mouse and the Gruffalo when we read The Gruffalo."
He also attacked national tests because of the way they shaped teaching, saying children needed the chance to read purely for pleasure, rather than to spot similies.
Mr Rosen, author of 140 books including We're Going on a Bear Hunt, was announced as laureate on Monday. The role, which is sponsored by Waterstone's, comes with a pound;10,000 bursary. He intends to use his tenure to promote poetry.
"I would like to see teachers putting hundreds of voices into children's heads through books," he said, "so children can have all those voices to use in their writing.
"For me, poetry is more suggestive, more ambigious, than fiction. Quite often it is musical which is good for remembering. You can carry it around with you. It is difficult to carry the whole of Dickens' Great Expectations with you, but you can do it with poetry."
Mr Rosen also hopes to set up children's literature trails, publicising the streets, villages and towns in Britain that have connections with children's books and authors.
Jacqueline Wilson, author of the Tracy Beaker books, estimated she had read to 100,000 children during her two years as children's laureate and successfully campaigned for the importance of reading aloud. She has just returned from America where a similar role of a national ambassador for young people's literature is being created.
Mr Rosen backed two new schemes that will give free books to children: Booked Up, for all Year 7s starting this autumn, and Bookstart, which already provides free book packs to children aged 1 to 3 and will be extended to give every reception child a further book pack when they start school.
'I FELL IN LOVE WITH MY FIRST TEACHER'
Michael Rosen is renowned for his work as a poet, performer and broadcaster. His first book of poems, Mind Your Own Business, was published in 1974 and he has written books every year since. His classic picture book We're Going on a Bear Hunt, won the Nestle Smarties Grand Prize in 1989.
The English Association awarded him an Exceptional Award for Michael Rosen's Sad Book, about the death of his son Eddie.
He was born in Pinner, north London, to a Jewish family from London's east end, with roots in Poland, Russia and Romania.
In January this year, Mr Rosen appeared naked in The TES to illustrate his decision to donate his body to medical research. He has helped enthuse thousands of pupils about science through his poems commissioned by the Association of Science Education.
Three years ago, he told The TES: "I fell in love with my first teacher.
She was tall, dark, pretty and kind and I was about two and a half. I had a letter from her only the other day to say she'd enjoyed an article I'd written."