Reprieve for baby books scheme

27th October 2000 at 01:00
A pound;250,000 government grant has rescued the successful Bookstart project - for now. Alison Brace reports

THE Government has stepped in to help save a highly successful scheme that aims to introduce every baby in the country to books by the age of eight months.

The TES revealed last month how the Bookstart project was in danger of folding once sponsorship by the Sainsbury's supermarket chain ends early next year.

The Government grant of pound;250,000 is intended to keep the project - which costs pound;3 million a year to run - going until it finds new private sponsors.

Bookstart, launched nationally two years ago by the Book Trust charity, is now reaching 92 per cent of families with babies. Families receive packs worth pound;10 - which include boardbooks, a placemat covered in nursery rhymes and information on sharing books and using libraries - when they attend the child's eight-month health check.

Estelle Morris, schools standards minister, will today announce the pound;250,000 grant and urged private sponsors to get involved. She said: "Bookstart is widely acknowledged as an important initiative in improving literacy by encouraging parents and babies to share the pleasure of books.

"Children introduced to books at an early age are at an advantage when they start school. The Department for Education and Employment would urge other partners to becomeinvolved," said the minister.

The Government already provides pound;50,000 a year to the scheme via the Basic Skills Agency.

At a conference today in Manchester, Professor Kim Reynolds and Dr Gillian Lathey of the National Centre for Research into Children's Literature at the University of Surrey, Roehampton, will reveal the positive effects the scheme is having on families' social skills, parenting skills, language development and parents' literacy levels.

Reports from health visitors show how distribution of the book packs has also boosted attendance at health clinics as well increasing library usage.

In Slough, 25 times more babies and toddlers have been joining the library since the introduction of the scheme.

Research by Birmingham University, where Bookstart was first piloted, showed how children given the packs performed better than those who had not in all nine categories of baseline assessment when they started school.

Japanese officials were so impressed by the scheme they are launching their own version.

Alexandra Strick, deputy director of Book Trust and head of Bookstart, welcomed the government grant, but added that private-sector funding was needed to guarantee the future of the project.She said: "We would be delighted to hear from organisations who would like to play a role in this groundbreaking scheme."

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