Cressida Cowell, the Waterstones Children’s Laureate, is calling on Boris Johnson to commit to a yearly investment of £100m in primary school libraries.
According to the Great School Libraries campaign one in eight primary schools in the UK doesn’t have a library and in an open letter to the prime minister, Cowell said many young people – particularly those from the poorest communities worst hit by the pandemic – are losing out on the opportunity to become a reader for pleasure.
“Millions of children, particularly those from the poorest communities worst hit by the pandemic, are missing out on opportunities to discover the life-changing magic of reading – one that Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development research suggests is a key indicator in a child’s future success,” she said. “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? I am writing – with the support of former laureates, literacy organisations, and publishing industry leaders – to ask the government to help reverse the spiralling inequality in education by putting primary school libraries at the heart of our long-term response to the pandemic with a ring-fenced, yearly investment of £100m.”
The letter says that investment could ensure all schools have the means to create a library space, pointing out that a PE and sport premium, introduced in 2013, helps ensure that all young people benefit from physical activity.
“I know that the government is looking for practical solutions for the problems caused by the pandemic: placing primary school libraries at the heart of our long-term education recovery would change lives, and level up this country,” the letter says. “By supporting primary school libraries we can help children whose future now lies in the balance.”
The letter is signed by former children’s laureates as well as the heads of organisations such as World Book Day, the National Literacy Trust, BookTrust, Seven Stories, CILIP and the School Library Association.
Cowell has also launched an initiative to transform school library spaces in six primary schools across England. For the ‘Life-changing Libraries’ project, Cowell will work with BookTrust in each location to create a space with 1,000 books and staff will be provided with training and mentoring from the School Library Association.
The project will spotlight the four pillars of a successful ‘gold standard’ school library – space, book provision, expertise, and whole-school and parent involvement – and BookTrust will monitor pupils’ engagement and reading behaviour over a period of 12 months.
The project is being supported by a number of organisations: Reading Cloud, which is providing a library management system subscription for each school; FG Library and Learning, which is helping refresh spaces with furniture and display products; Promote Your School, which is creating bespoke wall art; Rising Stars Reading Planet and Jobtrain; Tonies, which is providing each school a Toniebox; UK publishers, which are re donating books to stock the new library spaces; and CLPE which is helping to select the books and providing access to its Power of Reading resources.
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). At each school at least 25% of the pupils receive free school meals.
Diana Gerald, c.e.o. at BookTrust, said: “It is impossible to overstate the life-changing impact that books and reading have on a child’s life prospects, their mental health, wellbeing, self-esteem, educational achievement and so much more. Reading opens up a world of new possibilities for children and develops aspiration, with research showing that it can drive social mobility and mitigate the effect of social inequality. As custodians of the prestigious Waterstones Children’s Laureate role, BookTrust is delighted to be supporting Cressida’s ‘Life-changing Libraries’ initiative, and helping develop new library spaces that inspire a long-standing reading for pleasure culture within these six selected schools.”
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