Curl up with a good book? Sorry, no time

27th February 2004 at 00:00
Children have far too much to distract them these days. Surveys have shown that fewer boys are choosing to read and computers are to blame. As a role model for my staff and pupils, I feel that I'm failing in my duty because I, too, have no time to read for pleasure. I am distracted by documents from the Government.

Like Miss World candidates, I list reading and caring for others as my hobbies. Yet I find choosing books to read for pleasure becomes more difficult as I grow older. If I analyse my behaviour in the library, I never choose books from lower shelves (too idle to bend down), with close type (too short-sighted) or books set in other countries (little experience of foreign travel). I enjoy books that friends have bought for me.

It is my job to encourage reading. This term, we are focusing on reading to raise attainment (comprehension skills) and whole-school awareness of reading for pleasure. The children have written letters to a range of people, asking them how they learned to read. The replies have been fascinating. David Blunkett has written an interesting personal response, which the children appreciated. Author John Rowe Townsend wrote to say that if the purpose of the exercise is to raise parental awareness of the importance of having books at home, then it will be worthwhile. He is right.

We will make a big effort to make sure that the children hear stories read to them regularly. I have written to local people asking them to choose a story to read to an age group of their choice. There was great excitement when Paul Sturrock, the manager of Plymouth Argyle, promised that Marino Keith, the Argyle striker, would come to read to the children. We want different role models. We want them to see that reading is for everyone.

There will be the usual book trail with rewards for the number of books read. There will be trips to the library and book shops. The reading records have been updated and new scheme books purchased. Every classroom will be the epitome of the ultimate reading environment. I have given every teacher pound;5 to spend on a book to read aloud to the children; they have to explain their choice at the next staff meeting.

All this energy into reading. Will the children choose to curl up with a book at the end of the day? Will the boys turn their backs on computers? We can but try. Recently, a colleague's daughter had an interview at Cambridge. She was asked what she read for pleasure. With disarming honesty, she said that her coursework reading, her part-time job and her time for socialising meant that she had no time to read for pleasure. If asked the same question, my answer would be the same (apart from the part-time job and the socialising).

Val Woollven is head of St Andrew's C of E primary school, Plymouth

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