A muse at the Queen Vic

18th September 1998 at 01:00
Schools in England will each receive an additional Pounds 1,000 to spend on books, but the new battle to improve literacy is to be fought on the domestic front.

David Blunkett, Education and Employment Secretary, chose the set of EastEnders for the star-studded launch of the National Year of Reading.

He unveiled a Pounds 1.8 million advertising campaign to encourage parents to read with their children, with particular focus on fathers - and it will be supported by TV soap operas.

Mr Blunkett said: "Reading is a fundamental building block of learning for us all. At school or college, at work and at home it is crucial to our lives. I am convinced that parents who spend just 20 minutes a day reading at home with their children can make a big difference to their child's learning."

The scheme, which aims to make reading part of British culture, has already seen literacy storylines creep into Coronation Street, with troublesome teenager Toyah Battersby seeking to better herself with private tuition from Ken Barlow while in EastEnders an ex-offender struggles to improve his literacy.

Brookside, Hollyoaks and Grange Hill are to follow suit.

Their creator, Phil Redmond, said: "It is important to have a continued effort to get these issues in front of people.

"People with literacy problems don't want to talk about it for fear of being branded as thick, while those charged with educating them don't want it discussed in case the finger of failure is pointed at them."

A TV advert, first aired during Wednesday night's European Champions' League soccer match, shows fathers reading to their children and the importance of reading in everyday situations such as waiting for a train. It gives parents a Freephone number for a booklet on how best to read with their children.

Estelle Morris, school standards minister, said: "It is not enough to leave teaching of reading to schools. Although teachers are the key people, they will do it more effectively if the rest of the community supports them.

"Children need to realise that reading is a pleasure - something they learn in school that they then do in their leisure time."

Liz Attenborough, National Year of Reading project director, said the strategy included schemes for all ages which should yield benefits long after the year had finished.

Twenty community projects will share Pounds 195,000 of Government funding. They include schemes to promote cult novels to 16 to 25-year-olds in Cleveland, to enable housebound people to access reading materials using computers, and providing storytelling sessions for children visiting relatives in prison.

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