Catherine Millar tells us about the six primary schools involved in Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell’s Life-Changing Library campaign to show the transformative impact of school libraries on a child’s life opportunities. One in eight primary schools have no library provision. Does yours?
Cressida Cowell embarked on a tour of six primary schools last week to launch her flagship Laureate project, Life-changing Libraries. The six schools chosen to take part in the programme were selected to be as diverse a mix as possible, to highlight the positive impact a library can have anywhere. They are community, academy and church schools; inner-city, estate and leafy-lane rural schools; large and small; very diverse and very homogeneous. One thing they all have in common is that they had either very poor library provision or no library space at all. This is no longer the case! In the words of one child, ‘The books are extraordinary and there’s so much more variety now. It’s fantastic!’
So first of all, meet the schools: Griffin Primary School in Wandsworth, London is an inner-city school with a diverse community comprising of 59.4% EAL children (national average is 21.2%), whereas Benwick Primary School in the Cambridgeshire fens, a small, rural, 4-class school has only 103 children on role (0.8% EAL). Skerne Park Academy, located on an estate in Darlington, is more than 3 times the size of Benwick and has 28% children needing SEN support. Dinnington Community Primary School is in a former mining community near Rotherham (30% SEN support) and Saviour CE Primary in Manchester is another inner-city primary with 29.9% EAL. Woodchurch CE Primary School is in the Wirral, with many children experiencing adversity.
Although on paper the schools are very different, what has become strikingly evident as the project has progressed is how much the schools have in common. All the Headteachers have commented about the lack of books in their pupils’ homes and lack of opportunity to access local libraries. ‘We don’t have that service locally, where town parents might take their children to a storytime in a public library,’ said Clare Talbot, Headteacher at Benwick. ‘If we could replicate something similar here it would really help our parents.’ Kate Chisholm, Headteacher at Skerne Park, said. ‘Children don’t have the opportunity to go to the local library anymore. We’ll be loaning out books so that children can have that lived experience of borrowing and looking after things.’
Poor language acquisition is also another common theme. ‘Our children don’t have breadth of language and our library will have a positive knock-on effect on their oracy, writing and aspirations,’ said Julie Davies from Woodchurch.
The schools had to have a supportive leadership team and a minimum 25% FSM to take part.
So why do the schools have non-existent or poor library provision currently? Funding was cited as a barrier by all the schools. ‘We’ve always invested in books for the curriculum and not had money left over for reading for pleasure,’ said Eileen Anderson, Headteacher at Saviour.
Carly Doyle, Deputy Headteacher at Griffin said, ‘Another huge barrier was that I simply didn’t know how to create a library. As a teacher I know how to run a classroom, but a library is a different place and skillset. I don’t know how to make it look beautiful. I don’t know how to organise the books. How do I make sure books are returned? It’s brilliant having access to training on how to make a library work.’
In addition to the thorough coordination and support provided by BookTrust, training has been core to the support the schools have received, with library management systems and training provided by Reading Cloud and courses on setting up a library from the School Library Association. Reading for Pleasure UK is working alongside the six schools over the course of the next year to embed the libraries into the school culture, helping engage parents and pupils as reading ambassadors.
The physical spaces have been transformed by FG Library & Learning, with Cressida’s bespoke sketches turned into wall art by Promote Your School. The results are incredible, with the spaces looking like modern, welcoming sweet shops. ‘Books should be like sweets and not brussels sprouts!’ said Cressida as she declared the libraries open. In each space she delivered a draw-along to the reading ambassadors, inspiring them to spread the love of reading and writing throughout their school community. Each child was given a magical notebook that teachers are not allowed to mark, with children starting their first story in it before she had even left several of the schools.
At Griffin Primary, Cressida was joined by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, patron of the BookTrust, who read The Tiger who came to Tea to the children whilst surrounded by the 1,000 books donated as part of the project.
‘The book list is stunning,’ said Sarah Reason, Headteacher of Dinnington. ‘There really is something for everyone and we’ll now be able to make a reader out of every child.’
Eileen Anderson from Saviour talked about the message that having tatty, old books gives to the children. ‘We’re a Church of England school so we always talk about a special place of worship, we have here now the same kind of place that is sacred for books, where children can see that we value them highly – so much so that we have two special rooms dedicated to them.’
Cressida’s open letter to Boris Johnson calls for £100 million per year ring-fenced funding for books and school libraries. ‘Reading is magic, and magic is for everyone,’ Cressida says. ‘How can a child learn to enjoy reading if their parents can’t afford books and their school has no library?’
Catherine Millar is a former assistant head teacher and reading consultant. You can follow her on Twitter @allicatski and check out her website here