War Horse author Michael Morpurgo is to criticise an "apartheid" system in this country, which leaves some children feeling excluded from the world of books, stories and ideas.
Morpurgo, a former children’s laureate, is due to speak at the inaugural Book Trust annual lecture in London tonight about his fear that testing in schools is taking the joy out of reading.
He will say that successive governments pressure teachers into "teaching literacy fearfully" as they "insist that measurable outcomes and results are the be-all and end-all of the education process" and criticise schools that teach reading by turning stories into a series of comprehension and grammar tests.
But he will add that to solely blame governments or schools is passing the buck – it is a society as a whole that is responsible for whether its children suceed or fail in literacy, and everyone should strive to enthuse children about reading.
Morpurgo, who is president of the Book Trust, will point to "an apartheid system of a kind in this country, between haves and have-not children, between those who read, who through books, through developing an enjoyment of literature, can have the opportunity to access the considerable cultural and material benefits of our society; and those who were made to feel very early on that the world of words, of books, of stories, of ideas, was not for them, that they were not clever enough to join that world, that it was not the world they belonged to, that it was shut off from them for ever".
'So many avenues barred'
Tonight he will describe how failure feels: "You disappoint yourself, disappoint others. You give up. I gave up. To give up on books is to give up on education, and if you give up on education, then you can so easily give up on hope…So many avenues barred, so many possibilities never imagined, so many discoveries never made, so much understanding of yourself, of others, stunted forever."
Mr Morpurgo, who was a primary teacher before becoming an author, wants to see every primary school reinstate a story time, when stories are read aloud, at the end of each day.
Story time would be a special time with no testing or analysis he will say: "Let the children go home dreaming of the story, reliving it, wondering…All the rest will come later, the literacy side of things, which is important, once that seed is sown. Children have to want to learn. So give them the love of story first; the rest will follow."
The Book Trust annual lecture has been launched by the children’s charity to raise debate about children’s reading as part of its Time to Read campaign, which promotes reading for pleasure.
Diana Gerald, chief executive of Book Trust, said: "Reading isn’t a tick-list of books that need to have been read; nor is it just a skill to be learned then filed away. Literacy can, and should be tested; reading for pleasure needs to be nurtured, and seen more like exercise – do it as regularly as you can, make it fun and read together whenever possible for maximum benefits."