School libraries change children’s lives and need generous funding

Despite overwhelming evidence of the benefits of good library access — more reading for enjoyment, better attitudes to learning, higher attainment — school library provision is extremely uneven across the country, with schools in areas of highest deprivation having the worst provision. Most shocking of all, perhaps, is that not all schools even have a designated library area on site.

All of the UK’s former children’s laureates have joined with heads of literacy organisations and leaders from the publishing industry in supporting an open letter from the current children’s laureate, Cressida Cowell, to the prime minister, calling for urgent investment in the chronically underfunded school library system.

Cressida Cowell’s letter calls for 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.”

I have visited primary schools across the country over my 20-year career as a children’s author-illustrator and it is heart-breaking to see just how unevenly this fundamental opportunity is distributed. So often the children who need books the most are in schools that cannot provide them with even an adequate school library, let alone a good one.

Cressida Cowell, Children’s Laureate, from her open letter to Boris Johnson

Click here to read the full text of the letter.

Cowell refers in her letter to a 2002 OECD finding that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s
educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. This finding was also mentioned in a 2012 Department for Education briefing report on research into the benefits of reading for pleasure, which also highlighted:

  • the importance of reading for pleasure for both educational purposes and personal development
  • a positive relationship between reading frequency, reading enjoyment and attainment
  • a positive link between positive attitudes towards reading and scoring well on reading assessments
  • that regularly reading stories or novels outside of school is associated with higher scores in reading assessments
  • that reading for pleasure is an activity that has emotional and social consequences
  • that reading for enjoyment as children creates lifelong readers and improves general knowledge

You can read the briefing report, Research evidence on reading for pleasure, on our Documents page.

In her letter to the prime minister Cowell asks: “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?”

Her letter cites the 2019 Great School Libraries survey of 1,700 schools, which found that:

  • not all schools even have a library
  • there is clear evidence of a correlation between socio-economic status and access to a school library
  • 44% of schools with more than 50% of pupils on free school meals do not have a designated library area on site
  • only 34% of primary schools said that they have a designated school library budget and only 38% said that they have a designated member of library staff to run the library

Too many children are currently switched off learning as they struggle to see its relevance. As we pointed out in January, when we look at reading or indeed other key aspects of communication — written, verbal, mathematical — the evidence of the government’s own figures indicates that too many of our children are not meeting agreed minimum standards. That’s why encouraging reading for enjoyment must be a priority. And that means we need an ambitious, imaginative and generously funded approach to school library provision to ensure that reading for enjoyment can be a reality for all children and not just for the privileged few.

National Literacy Trust

School Libraries Association

Great School Libraries

Image at the head of this article by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay.

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