Wales stars Ryan Jones and Tom Shanklin joined Deputy Minister for Skills John Griffiths at the Millennium Stadium to put their weight behind the ‘Read a Million Words Together in Wales’ campaign, designed to achieve improved literacy skills among boys aged between 9-14.

Targeting boys through initiatives such as ‘Read a Million Words Together in Wales’ between the ages of 9 and 14 – a critical period for intervention – is vital to close the longstanding literacy gap with their female counterparts and Wales captain Ryan Jones was delighted to take part.

Jones said: “I’m really pleased to be here today to help reward some of the boys who have worked so hard to improve their reading.

“There is a perception among some boys that reading isn’t cool and we want to change that by getting involved in the campaign. It’s important that boys who fall behind with their reading are helped out with this and praised when they make progress.

“Well done to all the boys who have received recognition today, keep up the good work. After all, real men read!”

The scores of boys from across Wales who have worked hard to boost their reading and writing skills over recent months were rewarded by a meeting with Ryan and Tom at the Millennium Stadium and also Cardiff city favourite, Joe Ledley and Welsh musician Stuart Cable.

The high profile event falls as the Welsh Assembly Government marks the half-way point of the One-Wales programme, and is one of a series of 24 events, one for each month of the programme so far.

The rugby and football players, along with Stuart Cable presented specially designed certificates to boys attending the event who were deemed to have worked particularly hard to raise their reading attainment over the past few months.

As part of the campaign, which was launched with a major conference in Cardiff last October, Basic Skills Cymru provided teachers from across Wales with a range of classroom resources, posters, training workshops and advice to help them engage boys with reading.

These resources, together with funding from Basic Skills Cymru, have been used in schools across Wales to develop a range of initiatives to encourage boys to read more. Boys and teachers from many of these schools were present today to receive recognition for their achievements.

TV presenter Jason Mohammad introduced the day’s proceedings, which kicked off with a performance of innovative circus skills. A professional caricaturist drew cartoons of the boys.

Children’s storyteller Michael Harvey’s energetic narrative style and audience participation techniques engaged the boys with a wide repertoire of international stories.

A guided tour of the stadium, a juggling workshop and a workshop helping boys to create their own raps, completed the activities.

Guest speaker Deputy Minister for Skills, John Griffiths said: “The literacy gap between boys and girls has existed right across the UK for some time. It is worrying and it’s vital we ignite boys’ interest and start to make that gap disappear.

“We made it clear in One Wales that our vision is of a society in which learning through life is the norm, where the people of Wales are actively engaged in acquiring new knowledge and skills from childhood to old age. We are committed to this goal, and this event today, in partnership with Welsh sports and music stars, highlights the range of good work taking place across Wales to capture boys’ imagination.”

“Today however, is most importantly a celebration of the significant efforts that boys all over the country have been putting into improving their reading and writing skills. The benefit of these skills is immeasurable; they will be the key to opening so many doors in their future, to education, employment, and even different worlds through a good book!”