‘How can a child become a reader for pleasure if their parents or carers cannot afford books, and their primary school has no library, or that library is woefully insufficient?’
Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell MBE, has sent an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to reverse the spiralling inequality in education by putting primary school libraries at the heart of the country’s long-term response to the pandemic with a ring fenced, yearly investment of £100m.
The letter is supported by all ten former Laureates plus the main literacy organisations and Publishers Association. It asks the Government to demonstrate their commitment to levelling up the country by improving primary school library provision to ‘help children whose future now lies in the balance.’
Cowell highlights the severe long-term underfunding of England’s primary school libraries with evidence from the 2019 Great School Libraries report showing a lack of the key ingredients: space, resource and expertise, ‘Whilst every prison has a statutory library, one in eight primary schools has no library space at all. Worse still, schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals were more than twice as likely not to have access to a designated library space.’
‘How is it fair that some children are being given this immeasurable advantage in life, but stark book poverty means many more are denied this same chance to change their future?’
Her letter outlines how a ring fenced, yearly investment of £100m could help ensure that all schools have access to the key ingredients required to create and sustain a library space and develop a culture of reading for pleasure.
A new initiative to showcase the impact of libraries
Cressida Cowell has also announced plans for a new initiative to showcase the transformative impact a well-resourced primary school library has on a child’s opportunities in life, alongside the vast inequality currently facing children across England.
Life-changing Libraries will be Cowell’s flagship project as Children’s Laureate. Over the course of a year, six very different primary schools across England – all of which have at least 25% of pupils eligible for free school meals – will be helped to develop a reading for pleasure culture. The project is supported by BookTrust.
The Life-changing Libraries project will spotlight the four pillars of a successful ‘gold standard’ school library – space, book provision, expertise, and whole-school and parent involvement.
A bespoke, dedicated library space will be created by BookTrust in each of the six primary schools and stocked with a specially curated book list of approximately 1000 titles, selected by BookTrust’s expert book selection team with guidance from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, to inspire and engage children. Staff will be provided with professional training and mentoring from specialists at the School Library Association, as part of a two year-membership.
The project is being supported by Reading Cloud, who are providing a library management system subscription for each school; FG Library and Learning, who are helping refresh spaces with furniture and display products; Promote Your School, who are creating bespoke wall art; Rising Stars Reading Planet and Jobtrain; Tonies, who are providing each school a Toniebox; leading UK publishers, who are donating books to stock the new library spaces; and CLPE who are providing access to their Power of Reading resources.
Building is set to begin on the libraries this month ahead of officially opening in June 2021. The project will monitor the impact on pupils’ engagement, attitudes and reading behaviour across 12 months, collecting qualitative stories and case studies.
The six schools are: Benwick Primary School (Cambridgeshire), Dinnington Community Primary School (Rotherham), Griffin Primary School (Wandsworth), Saviour CE Primary (Manchester), Skerne Park Primary School (Darlington) and Woodchurch C of E Primary School (Wirral).
Kate Chisholm, Headteacher at Skerne Park Primary School, said, ‘Many children do not have access to books at home. Parents, when living in poverty, often have to choose between essential food and luxuries such as books, toys, or clothes. The children at Skerne Park Primary School have some access to books at school, but with declining budgets these are old and well used, and not very enticing for children to pick them up and read at home. Reading is a gateway to an excellent education and also an enabler for social mobility. Without the right literacy skills children often fall behind and disengage from education. Our school does its level best to encourage firm foundations however this is sometimes challenging with very little in the way of resource. As our children and their families are amongst some of the least engaged with realising their aspirations, having new, glossy books presented in a lovely library space would be such an enticement to enabling excellent love and positive associations with books and reading. After what has been a hugely difficult year, we are thrilled to be part of Cressida’s Life-changing Libraries project, and very much looking forward to building work beginning!’