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One Million Minutes

10 July 15 words: Liam Mills
Ian C Douglas is spearheading a campaign to get kids reading for a well long time...
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Photo: Zac Douglas
Get your reading glasses out, find a comfy chair and put the kettle on, as the final week of June 2015 marked the start of Achievement for All’s “One Million Minutes” initiative in the East Midlands. As part of the nation-wide challenge, schools in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Wiltshire are being encouraged to spend a total of 836,590 minutes reading, both in-school and out, in the hopes of beating the current record holders in Berkshire. 
This programme, backed by local author and frequent campaigner for the improvement of child literacy Ian C. Douglas, rides on the back of a series of successes for the charity. In 2014 Achievement for All was named “School Improvement Service of the Year” for the second year running at the Education Investor Awards ceremony. Later that same year, the charity teamed up with legendary actor-cum-children’s author Henry Winkler, famed for his portrayal of the effortlessly cool Fonzie in the hit show Happy Days, as part of a dyslexia awareness programme. And now, on top of this, the One Million Minutes challenge has already succeeded in getting forty schools in Nottingham to sign up and compete.
So just how vital is this challenge? Well, in more recent years the statistics would suggest it is very vital indeed. In 2014 the charity Save the Children found that as many as 1 in 4 primary school children were not comfortable readers by the time they entered secondary school, and that this lack of confidence from a young age had detrimental effects on the later years of a child’s educational development. 
Worrying statistics such as this were the reason that digital graphic novel Dawn of the Unread was created in February 2014. In their manifesto they state “the Confederation of British Industry found, brace yourself: One-in-six pupils struggle to read when they leave primary school; one-in-ten boys aged eleven has a reading age no better than a seven-year-old; and at fourteen, six-in-ten white boys from the poorest backgrounds are still unable to read properly.” Regarding illiteracy, Dawn of the Unread Editor James Walker said “I would go as far as to classify it as a form of child abuse given how profoundly it can shape an entire life”.   
Elsewhere literacy standards are one of the factors driving Nottingham’s UNESCO City of Literature bid which was submitted on Tuesday 7 July. Nottingham should be proud that so many local authors and organisations are working together to address this social issue. 
This startling trend of illiteracy has been a subject close to the heart of Ian C. Douglas, who has worked extensively with Achievement for All to promote reading and literature in primary schools across the county. The author, whose new children’s book Gravity’s Eye is released on 10 July to coincide with the challenge, notes how illiteracy mostly affects young boys, citing the writing industry’s reluctance to publish science fiction and other books suited to young male interests as the main cause. “Boys love sci-fi,” he says, “Can we complain boys won’t pick up books if we don’t give them anything to read?”
So far the challenge has been declared a success, with one spokesperson from Chievely Primary school in Newbury saying "I've never seen anything like it - children we can't normally get interested in reading are spending break-time with their heads buried in books!" Achievement for All’s CEO Professor Sonia Blandford has expressed enthusiasm for the future of the project, “We hope all primary school teachers will sign their class up to the challenge, and celebrate literacy and a love of reading”
Ian Douglas is in conversation with Pippa Hennessy at the Nottingham Writers' Studio at 7.30pm on Friday 10 July. Free event.  

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