Government intervention crucial for literacy - Rosen

Government intervention crucial for literacy - Rosen

Former children’s laureate Michael Rosen has warned the Evening Standard’s new literacy campaign, which launched this week in support of Volunteer Reading Help (VRH), could shift the focus away from universal provision for literacy support.

The ES campaign aims to grow the number of volunteers reading with children in the capital. However, Rosen said: “The ES says very much what the government wants to hear, that you can have any number of volunteers to do this work and it costs the government nothing. It gives the government a ‘get-out’ from any commitment to universal provision.”

He added: “What the government needs to do is practical things on the ground, school by school, as highlighted by campaigns like Just Read.” In particular, Rosen would like every child of school age in the country to be issued with their own library card. “What needs to happen is for the Schools Minister and Head of Libraries to sit down together and implement the requirement for every single school to issue a library ticket to every child when they enter fulltime education—preferably with a map to show where the library is,” he said.

However, the Department for Education has ruled out a call by campaigner Alan Gibbons in the ES for schools to be required to have libraries. A DfE spokesman said: “Ministers have been crystal clear about the centrality of literacy. Teachers and heads need no reminding of the importance of school libraries—they know what’s best for their pupils and so there are no plans to make it a statutory requirement.”

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Campaign whose research is quoted by the newspaper, said the ES campaign had achieved more than the industry in terms of getting its message heard. “As a sector we’ve been very good at presenting accurate and balanced information, but we’ve failed to get cut-through,” he said. “The Evening Standard has got the message across. People are talking about it on the Tube. That can only be for the good.”

Within 24 hours of the campaign running, VRH had had 250 requests for application forms and £2,500 in donations. The charity currently supports 5,000 children across the country and hopes to raise this to 9,500 children over the next five years.