Children's laureate calls on PM to invest in school libraries

Katy Morton
Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Children’s laureate Cressida Cowell is calling on the Prime Minister to invest £100m a year to create and sustain primary school libraries.

Children's laureate Cressida Cowell PHOTO David Bebber
Children's laureate Cressida Cowell PHOTO David Bebber

She has written an open letter, backed by former laureates Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake and Malorie Blackman, in which she calls on Boris Johnson to ring-fence funding for library spaces in primary schools to help reverse the spiralling inequality in education.

The letter highlights the underfunding of England’s primary school libraries, with research showing one in eight primaries has no library space at all – a statistic that doubles in schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals.

Ms Cowell says this lack of provision means millions of children, particularly those from the poorest communities worst hit by the pandemic and whose parents cannot afford books at home, are missing out on the vital benefits of reading for pleasure. She points to decades of research showing the importance reading for pleasure has a huge impact on a child’s educational development, health and well-being, personal growth and future prospects.’

Life-changing Libraries project

The letter comes as the children’s laureate launches her flagship Life-changing Libraries project to demonstrate the power of library spaces in schools.

Over the next year, six primary schools across England, all of which have at least a quarter of pupils eligible for free school meals, will be helped to develop a reading for pleasure culture.

Each of the six schools taking part will receive a bespoke library space, stocked with a specially curated booklist of around 1,000 titles chosen by the BookTrust with guidance from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

Staff at the schools will also receive professional training and mentoring from specialists at the School Library Association for two years.

The project is inspired by Cressida Cowell’s 20 years of experience visiting schools and backed by research into the benefits of reading for pleasure.

It is being supported by Reading Cloud, who are providing a library management system subscription for each school, FG Library and Learning, who are providing furniture and display products, Promote Your School, Rising Stars Reading Planet, Jobtrain, Tonies, CLPE and UK publishers who are donating books to stock the new libraries.

Building is due to begin on the libraries this month, before they officially open in June.

The project will also monitor the impact of the libraries on pupils’ engagement, attitudes and reading behaviour over the course of a year.

Ms Cowell said, ‘Millions of children are missing out on opportunities to discover the life-changing magic of reading – one that OECD research suggests is a key indicator in a child’s future success. 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.’

Kate Chisholm, headteacher of Skerne Park Primary School in Darlington, one of six schools to benefit from the project, said, ‘Many children do not have access to books at home.

'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.

‘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!’

The six schools taking part in the project are:

  • Benwick Primary school in Cambridgeshire
  • Dinnington Community Primary School in Rotherham
  • Griffin Primary School in Wandsworth
  • Saviour CE Primary in Manchester
  • Skerne Park Primary School in Darlington
  • Woodchurch C of E Primary School in the Wirral

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