School Library Closures

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By Jo Gray
on 20 November, 2016

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Chris Riddell's Letter to Government

This year, more than ever, we have seen a rise in the number of schools who have put reading high on their agenda of priorities.

Schools are developing children’s love of reading and embedding the passion for books throughout the whole curriculum and are determined to change the statistics surrounding how children perceive reading. In a recent study from the National Literacy Trust, only 44.8% of children and young people read outside of class and this is even fewer in cities like Manchester, with only 38.7% of children and young people reading outside of the classroom. Many schools are alarmed by this and are looking at ways to increase children’s engagement with books.

School library closures

At the same time however, children’s laureate, Chris Riddell, has highlighted closures of school library services and loss of members at the School Library Association. The main reason for this is lack of funding. Chris Riddell, supported by eight previous children’s laureates – Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Anthony Browne, Julia Donaldson and Malorie Blackman – wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, to gather official statistics on school library provision so the “extent of this problem can be understood”. This same plea was made by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries in 2014, but as it stands, has not been acted upon.

Riddell’s open letter, beautifully and powerfully written, states “I am asking you to act on [the APPG’s] request and then, with the support of Ofsted, to set out clear standards for library provision that will end this disadvantageous school library lottery that limits many children’s life chances. I am asking you to fund this from the education budget so that every school has a library service it can be proud of: books to borrow and wherever possible a school librarian to help children choose,” Chris Riddell told Greening that, “by promoting reading for pleasure, introducing our children to life-changing books and turning them into lifelong readers, school libraries are a vital resource that must be nurtured… We know Literacy standards will soar and we will all be richer”.

Read On. Get On.

With passionate and knowledgeable librarians at places such as Peters Books - who provide libraries and schools with a wealth of knowledge and information along with endless shelves filled with books that are bursting with magic, wisdom and inspiration – there is no reason for a fifth of all children in England, and close to a third of disadvantaged children, to be leaving primary school unable to read. Read On. Get On, a national campaign run by several charities, is aiming to have all children reading well by the age of 11 by 2025, with an interim goal that all children will be achieving good levels of language, early literacy and reading development by the age of five, by 2020. National Literacy Trust explains, ‘If children are unable to read well when they leave primary school it prevents them from achieving their potential in secondary school.’ This, in turn, creates difficulties for children beyond secondary school and can impact on society. ‘Read On. Get On. A Strategy to get England’s Children Reading’ states, ‘This problem is reinforcing social and ethnic inequality and holding our economy back. If it is not addressed it will cost us £32.1 billion by 2025.’ They too are calling on Justine Greening to sign up to their goal that ‘every child should be reading well by the age of 11, and start school with a good level of language development at five.’

The children’s laureate was unequivocal in his message to the Education Secretary, backed by Nick Poole, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, which has, together with the All-Party Parliamentary Groups, called for libraries for every school. The messages are also echoed by the Softlink 2015 UK School Library Survey which found that 54% of schools feel their library is not adequately funded. In 52% of schools the library budget has not increased from previous years; with a concerning 34% of schools seeing a decrease in their library budget.

Despite this, we know that many schools who have reading as a high priority on their agenda are helping children to achieve their priority, to develop a love of books and build a reading culture within their schools. Many schools undertake CPD specifically focusing on reading, such as ‘A Modern Approach to Reading’ taking place on 19 January 2017. The staff in these schools continuously stay up to date by reading themselves, or investing in a school reading council, where pupils recommend books to each other and suggest ways to improve the reading material within school. The best schools value the importance of reading; it is at the heart of their curriculum and they understand that the need is bigger than a reading test result or what level of book a child is ‘on’. There are many schools which should be praised, recognised and celebrated for their commitment to reading. One Education’s Reading Award ensures that schools gain the recognition they deserve for the commitment given to reading; illustrating they care passionately that their children have the best possible future by providing them with the gift of being able to read and loving it.

For more information, please contact Jo Gray on 0844 967 1111.

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