Children's enjoyment of reading soared when they took part in a celebrity-backed scheme linking football with literacy, a study shows.
Premier League Reading Stars, which has been run by the National Literacy Trust since 2012, is designed to grab the attention of children aged 9 to 12 who are falling behind in reading.
Teachers, librarians or teaching assistants work with children over 10 weeks in one-hour sessions using football-themed resources from the project. They explore different types of reading such as cliffhanger stories or newspaper reports and are given reading challenges and games to do.
An interim evaluation said that 38 per cent of the 920 pupils taking part in 2013 enjoyed reading before the scheme began, but 81 per cent did so afterwards.
Children eligible for free school meals made on average about a year’s worth of progress on reading over the 10 weeks of the course – twice as much as others who were not on free school meals.
One footballer from each Premier League club has filmed an online message about reading for the scheme and a series of reading challenges – questions based on extracts from books.
Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, who has written a series of children’s books called Frankie and the Magic Football, told viewers: “Reading is very important because it’s the base of all knowledge, it’s lots of fun and you learn lots of things.”
Raheem Sterling, who plays for Liverpool FC, said reading was "not only fun, but it’s important to read because it improves your concentration and discipline".
And Southampton player James Ward-Prowse admits he was particularly fond of James and the Giant Peach when he was young because he has the same name as the hero.
The full evaluation is to be published in September.