Online classroom platform Oak National Academy is launching a new virtual library in partnership with the National Literacy Trust.
The partnership will provide free access to books for children across the UK as the country continues in a third national lockdown.
The launch of the free digital library comes as over 2.2 million pupils accessed Oak National Academy in the first week of term, taking part in over 15 million lessons after measures were taken to close schools across the UK to the majority of children on the first day of term.
The Virtual School Library hosts free reading and writing content from children’s authors, providing a free-to-access book every week from the platform’s author of the week.
Dame Jacqueline Wilson's The Story of Tracy Beaker illustrated by Nick Sharratt (Penguin Random House Children’s UK, is the first book to feature and will be free to access and read for a week. Wilson (pictured) said: “I’m thrilled to be the first author of the week on the new Virtual School Library from the National Literacy Trust and Oak National Academy. I think it’s vitally important that every child should have an opportunity to access books. As most schools — and their libraries — are closed at the moment the free online library is needed more than ever.
“I try to write about interesting sparky characters in realistic settings, so I hope readers will be able to relate to their situations and develop a lifelong love of reading.”
Other upcoming titles include Hope Jones Saves the World written by Josh Lacey and illustrated by Beatriz Castro (Andersen Press), which tackles environmental issues, and Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World by Konnie Huq (Piccadilly Press), which explores a girl’s passion for science.
The initiative aims to increase access to e-books and audiobooks for the most disadvantaged young readers during school closures and support the literacy of children most affected by Covid-19. Research by The National Literacy Trust during the initial school closures in 2020 found that almost one in two children (46.3%) said that they had read new books during lockdown and one in seven (14.1%) had re-read books they have at home.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Oak National Academy is an invaluable remote education resource, with 10,000 video lessons available across a broad range of subjects. The programme has provided fantastic support for schools and teachers.
“While schools are closed for the majority of pupils, the learning and development of children must continue. Reading is hugely beneficial not only for children’s literacy skills, but also their mental health and wellbeing. This virtual library is a fantastic resource for children to access a free book every week from a range of wonderful authors.
“I would like to thank Oak and the National Literacy Trust for all they are doing, and I hope many families enjoy the access to such a huge choice of good books.”
Matt Hood, principal of Oak National Academy, said: “Reading is such a fundamental part of a child’s development. Access to books, like technology, is not a given for many of our most disadvantaged pupils. “We know a love of reading starts with access to books. With millions of children learning with Oak National Academy over the first week of term, it’s incredible to be able to add to our offer something vital for children’s literacy and their mental wellbeing. “We’re thrilled to be working with The National Literacy Trust on such an exciting project to make much needed access to books freely available to children, families and schools.”
Jonathan Douglas, c.e.o. of the NLT, commented: “The Virtual School Library is a fantastic tool for children, families and educators. We are entering another extremely difficult time and Oak Academy’s infrastructure and reach is essential for allowing as many children as possible to access a world of great literature.
“It is an honour to launch with Jacqueline Wilson, who is renowned for her ability to engage children and adults alike in a love of reading. We are working with a range of excellent authors and publishers over the year to inspire and entertain children.
“Many children’s literacy skills were profoundly affected by the first lockdown and school closures. We will do everything in our power to support children, families and teachers during this new lockdown period.”