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Where Hoddle's words equal Austen's

Matthew Pennington on a Cambridgeshire comprehensive's act of literary worship

THE much-heralded National Year of Reading is taking off in earnest. The Government has got EastEnders and Brookside on side, and now schools are getting in on the act.

Leading the way is a Cambridgeshire comprehensive which sacrifices a vital 15 minutes at 9am every Monday to make way for an act of literary worship - a simultaneous "read-in" by the whole school.

At the start of term, local television, radio and press descended on Ernulf Community School in St Neots, to watch all 990 pupils and 120 staff - including caretakers, technicians, administrative and canteen staff - as they sat down with the book of their choice.

Throughout the year, the school is going to sacrifice this slice of lesson time, to emphasise the importance of reading as "a foundation for all learning".

Principal Dr Joe Pajak doesn't mind if pupils opt for Jane Austen, Roald Dahl, Glenn Hoddle or any other author during the private reading time - as long as it has an educational purpose and parents and teachers approve.

He said: "Whether students read about fashion or football is no matter; they are still developing the skill of reading. With schools facing so many directives on the national curriculum, it's not easy to give up 15 minutes of teaching time. By doing this we are really nailing our flag to the mast, to show the importance we attach to reading, not just as an academic skill, but as a life skill."

A working group of teachers has organised activities to promote reading this academic year, which they hope will get the support of the National Literacy Trust.

Teachers will talk about their favourite books in assemblies and in October pupils will stage a one-week Readathon and a book fair. Ernulf also hopes to attract the services of a "writer in residence" for English classes.

Dr Pajak - currently re-reading George Orwell's political fable Animal Farm - said it was important not to lose sight of the need to promote reading in secondary schools, given the current emphasis on achieving literacy targets at primary level.

He said: "It's vital we build on the good practice in the primary sector. If we don't, there is a danger that pupils at secondary schools will miss out."

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