News group's donation doubles literacy camps

27th June 1997 at 01:00
Children who volunteer for the Government's summer literacy "camps" will be tested on their attitude to school, the Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett said this week.

The Government wants to prove that the summer scheme is working by comparing its graduates with children who did not take part. It hopes that children will emerge with a more optimistic view of school as well as improved reading skills.

Mr Blunkett was announcing that he has nearly doubled the number of summer literacy schools for struggling readers thanks to a surprise donation of Pounds 250,000 from News International, publisher of The TES, The Times and the Sun.

The coming months will see 50 of the intensive reading courses staged in schools around the country, including two from the prestigious end of the private sector - Dulwich College in London and King Edward VI boys' in Birmingham.

Mr Blunkett said that in future he would like to see "a very substantial programme" with summer schemes in every neighbourhood in the country. He urged secondary schools to consider devoting some of their own money to the initiative. "They might find it pays them," he said.

There are attractive rewards, not to say bribes, for the 1,500 children volunteering to give up part of their summer holidays: free theatre trips and backstage passes for London pupils; trips to Alton Towers and free football strip for some others.

The two-week courses were first proposed by Labour's literacy task force as a last-ditch means of getting 11-year-olds up to speed. The Government is concerned at the near-impossible job inherited by secondary schools when pupils arrive unable to read.

The scheme will concentrate on pupils who are falling just short of the expected reading standards: 11-year-olds, for example, with reading ages of nine.

"This is really what the better-off parents in the country would buy for their own children in terms of cramming or tutors," said Mr Blunkett. "But we're doing it for all children." He said that a series of tests has been devised by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority to help measure the improvement in children's reading and overall confidence.

The link-up with News International has been presented by Labour as further evidence of its new determination to work with business. Additional money and help in kind has been promised by firms including WH Smith, Trutex, Alton Towers, and the theatre producer Cameron Macintosh.

Speaking for News International, executive chairman Les Hinton said: "We recognise that a healthy business requires a healthy community. The company takes its social responsibility just as seriously as its business affairs. "

English Extra, page iii

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