Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has warned of “vast inequality” in the provision of primary school libraries and said the gap in educational achievement and opportunity “remains stark, worrying and urgent” as she called for Boris Johnson to ring-fence a yearly investment of £100 million.
The author, known for books including the How To Train Your Dragon series, has written an open letter signed by former Laureates including Michael Rosen and Sir Quentin Blake, saying:
“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.”
The letter said the lack of access to libraries means millions of children – particularly those from the poorest communities are missing out on the opportunity to become a reader for pleasure, but also notes how this is a fundamental learning skill that aids in reading and writing.
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She said this severely inhibits opportunities for educational development, health and well-being, personal growth and future prospects.
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Cowell has called on the Government to “help reverse the spiraling inequality in education” by putting primary school libraries “at the heart of our long term response to the pandemic” through the ring-fenced yearly investment.
She added: “The devastating impact on the most disadvantaged school children is not going to be remedied with a quick fix.
“We must properly invest in their future at this pivotal moment. Whilst every prison has a statutory library, one in eight primary schools has no library space at at all.”
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Cowell cited the PE and sport premium, introduced in 2013, which is allocated to primary schools and ring-fenced to improve physical education. She said: “Surely the opportunity to become a reader for pleasure is just as important?”
“How is it fair that some children are being given this immeasurable advantage in life, but stark book poverty means many more are denied this same chance to change their future?”
She added: “I know that the Government is looking for practical solutions for the problems caused by the pandemic: placing primary school libraries at the heart of our long-term education recovery would change lives, and level up this country.
Cowell has also announced plans for a new initiative – Life-changing Libraries – which aims to boost the impact a well-resourced primary school library can have on a child.
Over the course of a year, six 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.
A bespoke, dedicated library space will be created by BookTrust in each of the six primary schools and stocked with a specially curated book list of approximately 1,000 titles.
Staff will be provided with professional training and mentoring from specialists at the School Library Association, as part of a two-year membership.