Contest to boost child literacy
Schools Minister Nick Gibb has 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 suggested.
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.
Details will be announced in the coming weeks, but 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, warned that today's youngsters do not have the attention span necessary to read one of his novels.
She said that Dickens' work is still "amazingly relevant" to modern life.
But she added: "The only caveat I would make is that today's children have very short attention spans because they are being reared on dreadful television programmes which are flickering away in the corner. Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel and I think that's a pity."
The latest Government figures show that one in 10 boys leave primary school at the age of 11 with the reading age of a seven-year-old, while around one sixth (16%) of 11-year-olds do not achieve the level expected of their age group in reading.