READING to a child seems to be at the core of a new Government plan to stop the little blighters sliding into illiteracy.

The idea of Every Child A Writer is to bring 23,500 of the poorest readers, spellers and writers into an intensive programme in which they receive one-to-one catch-up lessons.

Even given the lax and low standards by which children’s literacy today is judged one in five 11-year-olds is failing to reach the National Curriculum benchmark.

In writing, one in three falls below the expected standard and one in seven is below par in reading. In maths, incidentally, nearly one in four can’t pass muster, so there’s a special programme for them called Every Child Counts.

I always find it amazing that things pick up remarkably in time for GCSEs and A-levels and seem to be getting better all the time.

Some magic must be worked on the children as they move through our educational system.

This magic hasn’t fooled many a hard-nosed employer. More and more of them are rejecting job applicants who can’t hack it in the literacy department.

Some of the rejects are university graduates, which should have universities thinking about what they’re letting slip through the net.

Critics have already pointed out the Every Child A Writer programme will be like feather-dustering a muck-heap. The problem is much deeper and more widespread.

The children targeted are the worst of the worst. The programme will roll on until at least 2011, when 100,000 children will be roped in.

This might not be recognition that the illiteracy problem is growing, though I suspect it is. There are 20 times the number of adult literacy classes running today than there were 30 years ago.

It might be in the design of the programme to attack and solve the underbelly first and work upwards to those who have at least figured out what C-A-T and D-O-G spell.

It’s hardly worth pointing out that children these days spend, on average, three times more time in front of a games computer than we ever did in front of a book.

When they text each other they use a crunched-up form of phonetic English. I’d like to think that they know how words are really spelled, but recent exam papers would suggest otherwise. For them B4 really is ‘before’ and gr8tfl really is ‘grateful’.

They’ll hate my saying so, but I’ve seen evidence; a growing number of the latest generation of teachers have literacy (and no doubt numeracy) problems themselves, which can do nothing but increase the problems their charges face.

I warmed towards Schools Secretary Ed Balls when he said this week: "We cannot sit back and accept we can do no more to stop children falling behind year after year."

He added: "But parental support will be essential if the schemes are to succeed."

Now we hear it.

Most of us who are well into our middle years will have a misty affinity with books. I’ve watched the look of the faces of people in my age group when they walk into a bookshop. It’s not quite reverence, but you can see they like the smell and look and feel of books.

I know where my love of books came from. My parents.

I got rag books first. Then colourful hardbacks with half a dozen simple sentences. Then pop-up books. Then Janet and John. Then Enid Blyton.

And then I was unstoppable.

But the key to all this was that my parents sat and read to me. I could see they could read and that they enjoyed reading. So as a result I wanted a part of that magic.

The saddest part of the Every Child A Writer programme is that it should be necessary. A link has been broken in the home. Schools are now responsible not for bolstering those first faltering steps into the world of reading and writing, but of instigating them.

The love of, and skill in, reading and writing comes primarily from our parents, for which I, for 1, m xtrmly gr8tfl.

BEING active over verbs

"SHE was sat/laid in the road."

I often come across this ghastly error. ‘Sat/laid’ in this context is the passive, not active, form of the verb and means that the person was positioned in the road by somebody.

The correct form is "was sitting ..." and "was lying ...".

I hesitate to consider the implications of the phrase "was laid in the road", as should we all.

Here’s another grotesquery: ‘As far as ..... is concerned.’ More and more I’m hearing the ‘as far as’ bit of the sentence without its natural conclusion, ‘... is concerned’.

"As far as Russia, do they have the right to annex South Ossetia?"

A couple of weeks ago I heard it twice in news reports on Radio 4, no less.

As far as I’m concerned it is massively, absolutely wrong and should be stamped out.

Reader Fred Sheard, who also keeps a close eye on these things, says he’s seeing a lot of people using the word testament instead of testimony.

A testament is the property allocation bit of a will or a proof or covenant. Testimony comes from the same root, but it means the declaration of truth.