13 April 2021 Share
A call on Boris Johnson to put primary school libraries at the heart of our long-term pandemic recovery
Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell MBE, has called on the Prime Minister 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 internationally bestselling author-illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon series has today published an open letter supported by former Laureates, literacy organisations and publishing industry leaders - including the SLA - asking the Government to demonstrate their commitment to levelling up the country by improving primary school library provision to ‘help children whose future now lies in the balance.’
The Children’s Laureate highlights the shocking reality – and severe long-term underfunding – of England’s primary school libraries with evidence showing a lack of the key ingredients: space, resource and expertise. Whilst every prison has a statutory library, research shows one in eight primary schools have no library space at all - a statistic that doubles in schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals.
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 opportunity to become a reader for pleasure and the vital benefits this chance brings. Alongside public libraries, school libraries are vital to giving all children access to books and reading. Decades of research shows the importance this has on a child’s educational development, health and well-being, personal growth and future prospects no matter their starting point in life, and how pivotal this is in not only determining a child’s later economic success, but also the economy.
Today, Cowell has also announced plans for a new initiative to showcase the transformative impact a well-resourced primary school library has on a child’s opportunities in life alongside the vast inequality currently facing children across England, which the SLA will also be proudly supporting.
‘Life-changing Libraries’ is Cressida’s flagship project as the prestigious Waterstones Children’s Laureate. Over the course of a year, six very different primary schools across England – all of which have at least 25% of pupils eligible for free school meals – will be helped to develop a reading for pleasure culture, with the support of BookTrust and Cressida. As part of this support, staff at the schools will receive professional training and mentoring from SLA specialists as part of a two-year membership.
The SLA are proud to be supporting the 'Life-changing Libraries' initiative. Our CEO, Alison Tarrant, says:
"Schools are doing their best to react to the research which shows the impact of reading on wellbeing as well as a myriad of other areas, but this funding would be a crucial step forward in ensuring equity of access to high quality books. Teachers, TAs and school library staff frequently share stories and pictures of 'hauls' of books for school sourced from car boot sales, charity shops and donations. While there are many gems to be had from shopping in this way, pupils deserve access to high-quality, new books not only because this will help engender a lifelong interest in reading, but because books published more recently will speak to topics and themes not included in older books, whether that be mental health, recycling or diversity of people and families. Recently penned books encourage discussion, activities and author visits which can embed creativity and raise aspirations. Libraries are life-changing and support from the government in this area will go a long way to giving schools the support they need to ensure all children thrive."
SLA Chair, Sue Bastone, says:
"Cressida Cowell’s ‘Life Changing Libraries’ initiative is, quite simply, the most effective way of levelling-up for all children in this country. Literacy changes lives and encouraging reading for pleasure by investing in primary school libraries is the surest way to improve the literacy of all our children. The School Library Association is delighted to support this initiative by offering training and mentoring to the initial six primary schools and adds its plea to the call for the Prime Minister to put primary school libraries at the heart of the pandemic recovery. Our children deserve no less."
Our President, Richard Gerver, says:
"As we are all so aware, the pandemic has cruelly exposed the inequalities that impede so many of our children and their life chances. As Cressida’s letter clearly articulates, we must pay heed to the analogue as well as the digital divide and the profound impact it too has had on our young. It must be a basic human right that all of our children have access to books, to libraries and to skilled librarians if we are to help them to dream, to learn and ultimately to live meaningful and enriched lives."