Minister says young ‘should always be reading’

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SCHOOLS Minister Nick Gibb said that children should “always have a book on the go” as he announced plans for a new national reading competition.

Youngsters who read for half an hour a day can be up to a year ahead in their schooling by age 15, Mr Gibb claimed yesterday.

He announced that from this autumn, the Government will be running a reading competition for seven to 12-year-olds in England, which aims to boost literacy standards and inspire youngsters to read.

It is understood that the competition will be based around who can read the most books, with youngsters encouraged to read fiction in particular.

There are expected to be local, regional and national prizes.

Mr Gibb said: “Children should always have a book on the go. The difference in achievement between children who read for half an hour a day in their spare time and those who do not is huge – as much as a year’s education by the time they are 15. A new national reading competition is designed to give a competitive spur to those reluctant readers who are missing out on the vast world of literature.”

The announcement comes just days after Claire Tomalin, acclaimed biographer of Charles Dickens, claimed that today’s youngsters do not have the attention span necessary to read one of his novels.

The Schools Minister warned that there are “shadows of Dickens’s world in our own” with disadvantaged youngsters the most likely to be affected.

In a speech at a south London secondary school yesterday he suggested that all pupils should have read at least one Dickens novel by the end of their teenage years and that teaching the expected standard in reading should be the “minimum expected”.

Speaking on the 200th anniversary of Dickens’s birth, Mr Gibb said that in the author’s time, “literacy was a gift for the few”.

“Today, almost everyone reads and writes. We blog, we tweet, report, comment, email and update to an astonishing extent. The chief executive of Google, Eric Schmidt, estimated we create as much information every two days on the internet as was produced in the entire history of mankind up until 2003.

“But even after two centuries of technological and social revolution, there are still shadows of Dickens’s world in our own – with literacy problems remaining asymmetric and heavily orientated towards the poorest in our communities.”