Last month I spoke to 20 primary and secondary school teachers about how children’s publishers can support them in the classroom. Apart from some revealing observations (“yes I know Wimpy Kid, but I don’t know who publishes the damn thing!”), what came out of the discussion was clear, if unsurprising: teachers want to understand the breadth and range of children’s publishing; and teachers want to deliver lessons for new titles that will pique the interest of their children. The problem is that they simply don’t have access to the information, nor do they really understand how the children’s industry can help them. And it begs the question, do any of us?
The way publishers have approached schools in the past five years has not necessarily been cohesive or holistic enough. It has often been hesitant, unsure, scattergun. One-off resource packs and A5 marketing flyers are effective, yes, but they don’t show an understanding of the general education landscape in which teachers operate. They don’t take into account, for example, curriculum changes, school calendars, exam periods and school buying habits.
It has been rare, up to this point, to hear of a focused schools marketing spend factored into publishing budgets. It has also been rare to see a complete and dedicated strategy for schools outreach. However, there is a feeling that it is time to change: to provide more meaningful support to teachers, to strike up unique dialogue with them, and to offer long-lasting provision. In other words, there is an urge for a more solid bridge to be built, and hopefully crossed, in order to make things mutually beneficial.
Perhaps this urge is borne out of another key talking point: that we are striving for more diversity in what is published and how it is marketed. Unsurprisingly, we are turning to the multifarious nature of our classrooms in order to meet this need, and rightly so. There is a lot to be shared with schools, but a lot to be gained in return.
To reap the rewards, ideas around schools outreach must continue to grow, to get more exciting, more essential, and big players need to realise their enormous potential, not only to make an impact, but also to generate engagement with their brands in classrooms.
What children’s publishers can offer is more crucial than we can imagine, a vital cog within the education system: giving teachers an opportunity to pick from some of the world’s most engaging and best-loved children’s books. This helps them push their schools to the forefront of the education system, enhance their Ofsted ratings and exam results, and ultimately give the children they teach an opportunity to learn and grow.
With school numbers continuing to grow, with reading for pleasure at the heart of many discussions in school planning—it is proven that a strong culture of reading in schools correlates to educational achievement—as well as recurring questions around teacher workload, timings and resourcing, it is clear that teachers are more open to the expertise offered by publishers than ever before.
Whether providing reading lists to meet curriculum objectives, resources to support reading for pleasure, PSHE ideas, incentives for kids, or even acknowledging the importance of teachers themselves and what they like to read, the industry should be ready to step up to the mark. Schools are no longer a third wheel; they are at the centre of our attention.
Jenny Baldwin used to teach and is formerly marketing officer at Scholastic. She is the founder of Shapes, a creative agency for schools content.