HC Deb 10 June 1999 vol 332 cc777-8
10. Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

What steps have been taken by his Department to encourage parents to read to their young children. [85409]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

Encouraging parents to read to their young children has been a very important part of both the literacy strategy and the national year for reading. We have run a series of television and radio advertisements for a free leaflet entitled "A Little Reading Goes A Long Way". The leaflet offers parents practical advice about how to read with their children. More than 1 million copies have been requested so far, and a further 2 million have been distributed through various outlets, including supermarkets and doctors' waiting rooms.

Ms Stuart

I thank the Minister for that answer. Reading to young children is beneficial not only to the child-parent relationship but to educational development. Is the Minister aware of the project that was first piloted in Birmingham in 1992, in which parents were given a leaflet and book alerting them to access to libraries when their babies attended hearing tests? In 1997, that scheme was run again for the whole city and, in the past two years, 25,000 children have received as part of the core-school partnership a pack of a book and information on the library. I gather that the scheme is being rolled out nationally. How much support will the Department give to the book start project?

Ms Morris

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the city of Birmingham, in which both our constituencies lie, an incredibly positive scheme, which was originally called "Books for Babies", was launched. The issue is about changing the culture and giving parents the confidence to realise that libraries are for them, and that they can learn from libraries and help their children. We are indeed rolling out the programme nationwide, with funding from the national year of reading and, I am very pleased to say, from private sector sponsorship. My hon. Friend will know that, when key stage 1 children in Birmingham and a control group were tested, the improvement in attainment rates among those who had been part of "Books for Babies" was quite remarkable. I therefore look forward to many more young children and their parents benefiting from the rolled-out scheme, and to rising reading and numeracy levels among children aged six and seven.